Race- ethnicity- is a weird subject- it makes people prickly, but it is not one I’m afraid to write about. I do, however, need a reason to write about it; otherwise I tend to let it fade into the background most of the time. A couple of small things have happened lately to make me think about ethnicity and how I might appear to the world- especially on paper/monitor and I felt a need to examine that.
Contrary to what one might expect from my name, from a standpoint of my genes and my upbringing, I’m all kinds of white and not a bit Hispanic. Genetically, I am Western European- British Isles, France, Germany, Switzerland and such. In person, people take me for Irish often enough, even though I have only the tiniest bit of it in my background. Socially, I grew up in a mid to upper middle class town in central New Jersey, and there was some diversity among the people there when I was a child. It increased as I grew up since our town became a desirable area for many Asians and Muslims, so I got input that said that people are people and only the details change. I am white any way you define it.
My name comes from the fact that I married a man whose paternal grandfather was from Spain. Thing is, his family never seemed to self identify as Spanish/Hispanic either, so we as a couple/family don’t stress the Spanish background for our kids. My husband’s grandfather, though bi-lingual, refused to speak Spanish to anyone who spoke English- he was an American so he spoke English. That attitude was carried down to my father-in-law and then to my husband. (Dear Hubby did take Spanish in high school and college, but isn’t fluent. Our kids are learning Spanish in grammar school as a required course, and I took a couple of years in high school, as well. Nothing against Spanish, we just don’t speak it at home much.)
So, that is who I and my family are from an ethnicity point of view. Lately though, it occurs to me that we might not really come across that way at first glance- especially from afar. Here’s why:
1) Hispanic Magazine has begun sending me free issues- unsolicited. I never asked for and never paid for a subscription. I hadn’t ever heard of the magazine until I got the first complementary issue. Not that it isn’t an interesting read, but it isn’t a magazine I would have sought out unless it was for research of some kind. Why me? Why do I get free magazines? I’m guessing that somehow I got onto a mailing list of middle class Hispanics (what seems to be their demographic) because of my name. Free magazines is not a hardship and I’m not offended at getting them (that would be ridiculous), but I almost feel bad that they are spending the money to send me magazines when I’m not actually in their demographic.
2) I read ‘No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cauze Bill Bailey Ain’t Never Coming Home Again’ by Edgardo Vega Yunque’ and posted a review of it here in this blog. A few days ago, when looking at my blog’s stats page, I noticed that some of the hits were through a search on the title of Yunque’s book. Vain thing that I am, I did a google search using the title, expecting to find my review on about the seventeenth page. Not so much. As of this morning, my review is the eighth link down on the first page, when you search on that particular title. Eighth! It occurs to me that that is ridiculous since no one seems to read this blog. I wonder if the search engine considers my review to have that much relevancy because the name attached to it is a Hispanic one, and if the same review written under my maiden name might just have been on page seventeen of the search results. This, like free magazines, is also not a problem so much as- well, I don’t exactly know what it is, really. I do know I feel a strange sort of guilty that people might be assuming me to have some authority in writing about Hispanic culture on account of my name, an authority that they might not credit me with if they knew more about me. Now, I don’t think that my opinion as a non-Hispanic is less valid than a Hispanic’s, but I do expect that some others might imagine that there is a difference.
3) I got an invite to join a club in New York- a place that is just opening up called The Terrace Club. It seems to be a sort of a country club in the middle of Manhattan, where business people can go to hobnob. It is a strange thing for me to get invited to:
A) I have only been into the city a handful of times in my life, most recently about twenty years ago.
B) I am not a businesswoman by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t hobnob or network or anything of the like. I am a homemaker (Domestic Overlady). I do not dress for success, I dress for comfort. Most days I wear jeans (often sporting a hole in one knee), T-shirts and sneakers as I chase after my two kids. I’m pretty sure that if I showed up at the tour I was invited to come on, they would show me the door, and quick.
The Terrace Club invite was the thing that made this not-quite-Hispanic thing click into place, since the only thing I can see as a reason for me to get such an invite would be if they think that I’m an up and coming Latina businesswoman with connections in the city, who could help them balance the diversity of their membership.
Is that the right assumption? That is to say, am I right to assume that I got invited to the Terrace Club because they think I’m Hispanic? Who is to say? I can’t be sure without asking them, which I am disinclined to do. I also can’t be sure if anyone reading my book review even noticed my name or if it is a Hispanic name (after all, one of the most famous people in pop-culture with the same name as mine is Cameron Diaz, who is not exactly a typical looking Latina). The only one of these events I can be sure is due to my name is the Hispanic Magazine subscription, what with the subject matter of the magazine.
So, what does all this mean about who I am? About whom people think I am or expect me to be? How about what it might say about the emerging importance of Hispanic Culture in America and how the country and business community are responding to it? I don’t know. I do know this: I might not be Hispanic in anything but name, but it is a name I wear happily since it came from a man that I love, and if people are going to expect me to be Hispanic because of my name, them I will try to be someone that the Hispanic community would not mind calling one of their own.