I’m Both White and Latina, and I Don’t Have to Choose

How I learned to embrace and take pride in my Ecuadorian identity.

by Gabby Felitto

When I tell people my ethnicity, I say, “My mom is from Ecuador and my dad is White.” I never say one without the other. But throughout my life, people have tried to put me into a single box: Latina or White.

When I was little, I didn’t think much of my ethnicity. My mom has midnight dark hair, dark eyes, tan skin, and speaks Spanish and English. My dad has blond hair, gray eyes, pale skin that gets red in the sun, and speaks only English. My dark hair, dark eyes, and pale skin make me a cross between the two.

In elementary school, I discovered ethnicity was a thing. When we took state tests, we had to identify our ethnicity. I was confused about what to put. It was supposed to be a simple question, but to me, a child who identifies as two ethnicities, I was at a loss. In the end, I put Hispanic, but it felt weird, like choosing which parent I love more. (Fortunately test makers have since added a mixed ethnicity option.)

I thought White people were better, particularly since a lot of the White kids were in gifted and talented classes, but I, along with most other kids of color, were in the regular classes.

I only had crushes on White boys and the White singers in bands. When I first got blond highlights at 9 years old, I realize now it was because I associated blond hair with success and attractiveness.

White Isn’t Better

In 5th grade, I became ashamed of the dark body hair that I associated with being Latina and non-White. I thought my arms looked like monkey arms. I wore sweaters to cover them, no matter how much I sweated in class.

When I got to middle school most of my friends were White. This, combined with my descent into “emo” music, a genre I perceived as predominantly White, only reinforced my definition of beauty.

I stared at my black eyes in the mirror, thinking, “Why couldn’t I have my dad’s blue eyes?” I hated my dark, wavy hair. I shaved off the unibrow that I had been so proud of when I was little because my parents said I looked like Frida Kahlo, my favorite artist. Although I still loved it, I succumbed to the pressure of what I thought was supposed to be beautiful.

But then I entered my predominantly Latinx and Black high school. I made new friends, none of whom are White. Many of them are smarter than the White kids I used to think were so superior.

I also became more aware of political issues concerning racism because of my friend group and my feminist club. For example, I now think the reason the kids of color in my middle school misbehaved in class is because this was how teachers made us feel we were expected to behave. Being surrounded by such a “woke” community helped me realize that White isn’t better, and that I could once again be proud of both my sides of my identity.

Tired of Being Labeled

Although I feel better about my mixed heritage now, there are still those who try to label me. Some kids call me the “Whitest Latina” because I love bands that play “White music.” Sometimes I still feel like neither of my communities accepts me.

Once I shared my plans to apply for college scholarships with my good friend whose parents are both Mexican, and she blew up at me for applying to those for Latinas.

“What! You don’t even speak Spanish!”

Another time, one of my Latina classmates was shocked to find out that I am half Ecuadorian. He said, “You’re too pale to be Latina.”

This made my blood boil. I shouted back, “Well, Shakira is pale, too, but everyone considers her a Latina!”

It makes me angry that people in a community I grew up in and consider myself to be a part of don’t fully accept me because I don’t speak Spanish and I am paler than them.

I acknowledge that although I am a person of Latin American descent, I have not experienced many of the struggles that some other Latinx people face. I haven’t had to translate for my parents, or to experience colorism for having darker skin or the terror of being undocumented or having undocumented family members. I understand that these are reasons for many in my community to not fully accept me, but I still don’t think it’s fair.

I never wanted to be given a choice of either/or. I am Ecuadorian and White. I want both communities to accept me as both. I am tired of not being Latina enough or White enough.

I shaved off the unibrow that I had been so proud of when I was little because my parents said I looked like Frida Kahlo, my favorite artist.
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