Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Audio Blog - I Never Knew I Was Mexican

Read along with this audio blog...

I never knew I was Mexican. Until I lived in Oklahoma, that is.

I lived in Oklahoma for about three years. I loved it there. I grew accustomed to small-town living, tornado season, and even picked up on the accent a little.

But there’s one thing I grew keenly aware of when I first moved from New Mexico to Oklahoma.

I am Mexican.

I honestly had no idea, no clue, that I was an up-on-the-rooftop, twelve-person-household, belt-buckle Mexican.

I wouldn’t call it racism, but there’s definitely a sense that people paint with broad strokes when it comes to ethnicity.

Now, to be fair, I tend to lump all white people in one category. I know they love to point out exactly how much Irish and Scottish and French-Canadian they have in their blood but to me they’re all just descendants of Caucasia.

In New Mexico, we have every label in the book to distinguish every shade of brown. Hispanic, Latino, Chicano, Spanish and, yes, Mexican.

But all those labels dropped once I crossed into Red Dirt territory. The only one remaining was “Mexican.”

I remember I was always taken aback when I would be asked, point blank, “Aren’t you Mexican?”

“Well, no, I’m Hispanic. I mean, my dad’s from Mexico and all but I’m American. Well, I was born in New Mexico. Like my mom. But her family descended from Mexico.”

The answer was far too long and complicated and often lead to me explaining all the terms for people of Hispanic heritage and other disambiguation but eventually I just gave up went along with the Mexican misnomer.

It bothered me a little. But it didn’t irk me nearly as much as my run-in with the local police.

I’ll admit, I was going over the speed limit a little. Five miles per hour over to be exact. But the cop decided 40-in-a-35 was justification for pulling me over to the side of the road. I obliged and rolled my window down to talk with the officer.

“License and registration, please.”

Now, I have this quirky habit when being instructed by the police. Maybe I’ve watched one too many episodes of COPS as a kid but I always let the officer know what I’m doing with my hands just so they can be assured I’m not reaching for a knife under my seat or a gun in the glove compartment.

So I indicated to the cop that I was getting my license from my back pocket and my registration was in the glove compartment. I retrieved both and handed them over.

I hadn’t been in Oklahoma long so I still had my New Mexico license. The officer looked it over and asked me, “You speak English?”

I thought, in my head, “What? Seriously?”

“You speak English?”

What I though of saying was, “Didn’t I just clearly demonstrate my ability to follow your instructions by handing over my license and registration? Isn’t that an indication that I can understand your English?”

What I really said was, “Yes.”

He took my things back to his car and came back with a warning. I accepted it and drove off, calmly.

It wasn’t until I reached my destination that I realized just how upset the incident had actually made me. I was furious and there was nothing I could do about it.

And then… it happened all over again.

I had yielded at a stop sign instead of a full and complete stop. I pulled over to the right side of the road and handed over my license and registration.

“You speak English?”

With more attitude in my voice this time, I replied, “Yes.”

I wanted to do more, to say more, to make him realize how rude and insensitive his question was but there was really nothing I could do in the moment. The racism was so subtle and his intentions completely deniable that I couldn’t blast him on the spot for it.

I took my ticket and left.

What would you have done?


Please, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below. And share this with your friends.

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Leslee said...

I didn't know I was white until the Eskimo indians from Alaska refused to talk to me at a Native American conference. I was there with my tribe, Cherokee, but yes, I'm pretty white.

P.S. Nice to hear your voice again.

Stela said...

This makes me so mad for you! I've had a few shoppers dads ask me, "where are you from" and I say Enid and they say "no, where are you from?" "I'm from Enid, Oklahoma!" hahaha then they have to ask what my race is. It's super annoying. My parents were both born in Texas and so were their parents.