Finally Feeling Latina Enough… Thanks to “Mexican WhiteBoy”

Mexican WhiteBoy

Hoops have become a big part of my personal fashion identity, but most people wouldn’t know that until recently, I had been avoiding this “Latina stereotype.”

For me, when I wore hoops growing up, people would begin to question my identity: “Wait, are you Latina?” Or they would automatically start speaking to me in Spanish. Though I am very proud of being Latina, I always felt ashamed that I was a “no sabo kid” and for years, people would pick me apart and tell me that I wasn’t Latina enough.

*hence me avoiding those debilitating conversations at every opportunity*

I never really get to voice how I feel about not fluently speaking Spanish… I’m half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican. My dad is the Puerto Rican one, and he was unfortunately only really present at the beginning of my life. He didn’t speak Spanish either, like the only words I grew up knowing were hola, adios, and te quiero mucho. All of my family is from New York, so they didn’t have to speak Spanish either. We weren’t like Latinx like the communities I heard about in Miami or Los Angeles. 

Everything started to change for me around senior year when I was forced to write all of these college essays about myself, my upbringing, and my aspirations. Luckily senior year entailed a lot of presentations in the auditorium, including one that really stuck with me. It was a presentation by author Matt de la Peña. He came in and told us about his book, Mexican WhiteBoy. It follows the protagonist, Danny Lopez, a shy kid from San Diego who struggles with his bi-racial identity, feeling inadequate around both Mexican and white people. I had always struggled, feeling misunderstood, less than, and “othered” but this was the moment I realized what it was all about. I’d never found someone before who understood my mixed identity, never mind writing a whole book about it. Hearing him talk about his own struggles helped me realize that I am not alone. 

I’m not first-gen, I think I’m like 3rd or 4th gen Boricua in the States so it kind of makes sense that I don’t speak Spanish. But that hasn’t stopped people from criticizing me for it. 

Some days, it’s like Spanish isn’t the only language Latinx people speak, so it is okay for me to speak English. I also grew up in the States, so it’s okay for me to speak English. But also I’m not gonna lie about all the times my lack of fluency has made me sad because there are so many people in the community that I wish I could communicate with on a better level. 

I may not be fluent in Spanish, but I feel like I know enough now. I learned the basics, but it’s hard for me to continue to carry on a conversation when I know someone is going to say something that I might not know or that maybe they’ll speak faster than I can understand. There’ve been so many times where even though I grew up in a huge Latinx community, I can’t communicate with mi gente. Now as an adult, I’ve worked on it and every day I try to learn more, because it is just another connection to my culture. It’s already hard enough not having grown up with my father consistently, but now as an adult, I’m trying to change all of that and fill in some of these gaps to make myself feel more connected to mi cultura. 

I grew up in South Florida and the Latinx community down here is so diverse. Even though I’m Puerto Rican, I feel like I learned so much from Cuban, Mexican, and other Caribbean / Central American cultures, including all of our delicious cuisine. Cafe y pan alone is so diverse from place to place. I grew up on cafe con leches and guava pastelitos from local bakeries. I grew up on the best, most authentic tacos in town. I grew up on platanos of all sorts. 

When de la Peña talks about Mexican WhiteBoy and his experience being a mixed kid, he often emphasizes a few themes: “interloping” between groups, never feeling completely “in” a group, getting access to both groups and yet never fully being on the inside of either. His experience was ever so slightly on the outside, especially in terms of the different racial and ethnic groups that he grew up with. Hearing how de la Peña also didn’t speak Spanish, I felt seen in ways I never knew I needed, all for the very first time. Language, or anything else for that matter, shouldn’t be a barrier to embracing your cultura.

Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, a professor and director at the UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture says, “There are about 63 million Latinos in the United States, and no two people are Latino in the same way. It’s not language that makes you Latino.” In fact, according to the United States Census Bureau, 21 million Latinos do not speak Spanish at home.

All of this to say, there’s no one way to be Latina. My identity is valid in whatever form or fashion I come in.

I took this picture on the first day I felt comfortable embracing all parts of my identity. I was at college in Miami, feeling comfortable with mi gente and I never looked back!

For me, being Latina means being myself and owning who I am. I’m Boricua, I’m queer, and I’m here. People have always tried to make me prove myself because I don’t speak Spanish fluently. Pero, like, you don’t need to speak Spanish to be Latinx, it’s in my blood. I bring it with me everywhere I go. 

I’m proud to say that not just myself, but many young Latinxs are finally clapping back at the policing of their speech. This camaraderie has opened up a debate on what it means to be Latinx in the United States. In an interview about how language worked in his household, de la Peña declared “The generation of today, they’re doing a great job of owning who they are culturally.”

Mexican WhiteBoy is a story of a young man trying to figure out who he is. It takes you on a journey of self-identity and has helped me grow to feel confident in who I am. Now, when someone wants to question my Latinidad, I start a constructive conversation about assumptions, judgment, and identity.

What We're Watching

Stay Connected & Sign Up for Our Newsletter!