Ask a Mexicana: Is that Eye-Talian?

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Growing up in the ’70s, it wasn’t cool to be Mexican (well, I guess it’s not exactly cool now either, especially in Arizona).  In my mostly white suburban neighborhood, light skinned Mexicans would pass themselves off as Italian to avoid hassles. Down the street from my house, there were families like the Garcias, who would pronounce their names like “Gar-sha.,” and totally deny their ethnicity.

This kind of bad behavior didn’t do a lot for a Mexican’s self-esteem. I could get into the politics of it, but suffice to say that there are generations of us that grew up hating our ethnic identity and trying desperately to blend in.

If a ‘can happened to be “lucky” enough not to “look Mexican” they could escape instant judgment from the racists out there. My family and I happened to be  those “lucky” ones. And with a last name like mine, that ends in “ano”, it was easy for a lot of people to assume I was Italian. My parents never talked about this, but they hated it when people would assume we were Italian. They never denied we were Mexican.

But me, being an insecure kid, would get subjected to grown up’s inquisitions and not know how to handle it. Some nosy people, especially teachers on the first day of school would ask, “Is your last name Eye-Talian?”

Sometimes I would just say “uh, yeah,” to shut them up. As I grew older I realized that what these people were doing was summing me up based on my last name (because they couldn’t do it based on my skin color). My answer would subconsciously determine what reading group I got into, or whether or not I was “gifted.”

By my senior year in high school, whenever some fool would ask me that question, I had enough confidence to pause, take a deep breath and say “no, it’s Mexican.”

That’s when I’d watch the look on their face, or hear the tone in their voice. Their look of surprise would always be followed by “Oh…” And the worst of them would say something as idiotic and rude as “You don’t look Mexican.”

The funny thing is, decades later, some people still ask. At least here in Colorado. In Cali and Tejas they don’t. In fact, I’m the outcast because I”m a pocha and don’t have a typical Mexican last name. But here, twice in the last two weeks some honkey crackers have asked me that question I’ve dreaded since I was old enough to answer it.

Today, I answer with, “No, it’s not.” If I’m feeling uppity and confident, I’ll shock them and tell them it’s Mexican. If I don’t feel like dealing with their bullshit, I’ll just say “No.” and drop it.

And whenever these morons say “Oh, you don’t look Mexican,” I like to reply with,

“So, what does a Mexican look like?”

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