All my life, I thought I was the proud daughter of Dominican immigrants. I had a quinceañera, spoke Spanish with my grandparents, and ate cake with tiny metal balls embedded in the frosting. Like a pendeja, I considered myself to be 100% Latina. But I soon found out that I was so, so wrong.
Luckily for me, each and every day there is someone not of my ethnicity who lets me know that that I’m not actually Hispanic – I’m “ethnically ambiguous.” How could I have been so blind to who I truly am?
In retrospect, it’s crazy that I just assumed I was Hispanic simply because my parents were. Who could blame me, though? Since I grew up in a diverse area with folks of different backgrounds, no one ever told me how viscerally perplexing my appearance was to them. Like a bunch of educated, well-adjusted snakes, they allowed me to think that my brown skin and curly hair were normal Latina features. When in reality – they were distinct physical traits of the ethnically ambiguous.
It took the perspective of complete strangers with little to no knowledge about my ethnic group to see me for what I really was: a beautiful, exotic enigma whose origins could never be traced.
At first I didn’t believe it was true, but as I navigated the world and encountered more people who had never met a Dominican person before, I had to come to grips with the disarray I left in my ethnically ambiguous wake. These people, whose grasps on reality slipped at the very sight of me, were simply the authority on this matter and were trying to help me.
I’d like to take a moment to thank all of the kind, mostly caucasian souls who have reminded me that any sort of connection that I’ve felt to Latinx culture has been bogus. I’m grateful to everyone, from the man selling braided hair extensions at a mall kiosk who bet he could guess what country I was from (and was wildly incorrect) to every customs agent in every place I have ever gone. Without you guys remarking on my ethnicity with no warning or provocation, I’d still be falsely enjoying a sense of community based on shared experiences and traditions. Whew, that was a close one!