Recently I was at an event when an elderly white gentleman approached me and began a conversation. After we got over the whole “It’s Sara, not Sarah,” part of my habitual introduction of myself, he made the oft repeated comment, “You don’t look Hispanic.” And, given the fact that I was tired and the night was still young, I chose from one of several responses and settled on, “Oh, well I am, I get that a lot.” (See my previous column for insight as to how often I get the “you don’t look” comment.)
We began our conversation, which ranged from the weather to the economy to college and family, then back to politics — I never can resist. In true male form, just as I was about to make a big point and thus curtail his argument, he interrupted me to point out, “Now that I see you gesticulating as you speak, I can tell you are a Latina after all.” Yes, really.
Now there are lots of things one could say about this, none of them good. Sigh.
First of all, and as I’ve written previously, I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that I have to convince people that I am what I say I am — especially after an entire conversation as to how to properly pronounce my name. Really? How many people have you met that go around claiming to be Latino that aren’t? What, are they trying to tap into all the benefits that come with being from a minority group in this country, or what?
Secondly, I was not aware that part of my Latino membership card noted that I had to gesticulate in order to properly belong. Does it say that on your card? Perhaps I don’t have the updated card. In any case, I found it pretty insulting that, in what I believe this man supposed was a compliment, my entire culture was neatly wrapped into a tight package of wildly gesticulating maniacs.
Because, what, “normal” people don’t gesticulate when they speak?
And I can already hear it, people saying things like “It’s not a big deal,” or “He probably didn’t mean it like that,” “Can’t you take a joke?” or my favorite “Why do you have to make everything about race?” Frankly, I’m tired.
I don’t see why I have to go around “representing” my race or “proving” that I am who I say I am when other people, like white men for example, get to be whoever they say they are with no questions asked. Honestly, if my name and my telling you who I am isn’t enough to convey to you the idea that I am Latina, I don’t see how my hand gestures could possibly add anything to such a one-sided conversation.
Follow Sara Inés Calderón on Twitter @SaraChicaD.