My children’s complicated identities as White Hispanics

myriamby guest blogger Myriam Juarbe

I am a Hispanic, White female from San Juan, Puerto Rico, married to my college sweetheart in graduate school. He is also Hispanic and White (but from Spain)—although here in the United States, many people assume my husband is a person of color. We have two teenage children, ages fifteen and eighteen, and their skin tones are more similar to my husband.

When our children were little we decided as a couple that I would stay home and care our children. I have a strong Spanish accent and other moms would often ask,

“Where are you from?”

“Puerto Rico,” I would say.

The most common reply was, “You don’t look Puerto Rican. You have fair skin and green eyes and light hair.”

My answer was usually, “Puerto Ricans come in all colors and shades.”

My children have heard those comments over and over from a very young age. As young adults, they have had the experience of benefiting from light skin privilege, and, at other times, their Whiteness has been questioned based on their skin tones.

My daughter’s White friends have told her:

“You’re so lucky that you get to check the box for Hispanic in your college applications,” implying that she has an advantage in the entrance process because schools need a certain number of minorities.

She has often shared with me other comments from her friends like:

“You’re not really Hispanic, you’re just White.”

At home, I tell her, “First of all, Hispanic is not a ‘race’” (which my daughter already knows). “It makes me angry that your White friends want to deny an important part of your heritage that we take pride in as a family…”

My son is only fifteen, but he is 6’ 2” tall, and has beautiful thick black wavy hair and full lips.

“I’m going to de deli. Do you need anything?” he’ll ask me.

“No,” I reply, “but please take off your hoodie when you go into the store, and take your hands out of your pockets. Make sure that the clerks can see your hands at all times.”

“Mom, I already know that,” he replies, annoyed with me.

He has heard the same nagging reminder from me since he was old enough to go to the corner store to buy ice cream. If my son looked more like me, we would never have this conversation before he headed out of the door.

As my children have grown up, the conversations about ethnicity and race have never stopped. It has been my job as a parent to begin these conversations at a young age as a way of giving them the necessary tools to face a society that bombards them with stereotypes.

Click here to watch an excerpt of a John Oliver episode (starting at 3:00) that relates to Puerto Rican’s identity in the United States.

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Myriam Juarbe teaches Spanish at an elementary school in Brooklyn.

Click here for more information on participating in a Raising Race Conscious Children interactive workshop/webinar or small group workshop series.