“Wait, you speak Spanish?” By no means were Tom and I close friends, but we were acquainted enough that he was surprised to hear me speak Spanish for the first time.
“Yea man. I’m full Mexican!” I replied casually.
“I mean, I knew you were Mexican. I just didn’t know you were THAT Mexican” Tom said.
Perplexed, I asked why I didn’t seem “that Mexican.”
“Well, you don’t dress or sound Mexican. You sound white.”
Tom uttered the last words hesitantly, hoping I wouldn’t be offended.
The term “whitewashed Mexican” has always interested me. It is a term used by people to describe someone who doesn’t fit the Mexican stereotype. Fucked up thing too is that Mexicans use it on one another (Mexicans have a long history of putting each other down, but that’s for another post).
The stereotype we have of Mexicans is that they’re brown, Catholic, short and have nappy hair. This stereotype comes from, well history.
Like any period in history who are the first people to immigrate to a new country? The lower class. Makes sense right, if you’re rich or well off you wouldn’t leave. Historically speaking, Mexico’s lower class was the short, brown, Catholic ethnically mixed people. They were the peasants that worked the fields. Because they were the ones that immigrated en masse to the US, that image stuck with the US audience.
Mexico’s upper class has long been characterized by light skinned people of European descent. To understand why, one must take another look at history. I’m simplifying a lot, but the basics are here:
(Circa 1512-1821) Mexico’s indigionous population were raped, pillaged, and almost wiped out by the invading Spaniards. Those Indians that didn’t die were converted to Catholicism. Makes up for the raping and pillaging right?
Many of the indigenous women had children by Spanish men, giving birth to Mestizo, or mixed children. Statistically, the majority of Mexico’s population is classified as Mestizo. Mestizo people for whatever reason, predominantly stayed poor and in the lower class. Thus it made sense that over the centuries they emigrated in search of new opportunity.
(Circa 1700-1910) Meanwhile, Spanish and other European families moved to Mexico to escape collapsing governments in Europe. They generally intermarried to keep the European race pure. For many reasons, they became the middle and upper class.
Let’s not forget too, the Arab, Jewish, Eastern European and African influence on Mexico. What I’m hinting at, is that Mexico is a very diverse country.
Don’t believe me? Take a stroll through the Mexican state of Jalisco, where blonde haired-blue eyed people walk side by side with their brown countrymen. Or how about Monterrey? The northern Mexican area has a large Jewish population. Don’t be surprised to meet a Roberto Goldstein there.
Hell some of your favorite actors and entertainers are Mexican! Anthony Quinn , born Antonio Rodolfo Quinn, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. Louis CK, the hilarious actor/ comedian is a Mexican citizen who speaks fluent Spanish. Salma Hayek? I know you know she is Mexican. But did you know she’s of Lebanese descent?
Anyways, I’m not a fan of the term whitewashed Mexican because it insinuates that I must fit into a certain stereotype. Sure I may wear cut off pants, rock a faux hawk, listen to rap music and speak French, but that’s not what determines if I’m Mexican or not.
I’m Mexican because I speak the language, understand the history and most importantly, identify with the culture. The term whitewashed is only there for people who need a mental shortcut to make sense of something that doesn’t fit the schema.
Now I’m off to go play soccer and drink Bud Light.