Blurring the Lines

When an elderly woman walked into Supercuts that day, Raquel Alexander wasn’t expecting to be insulted simply for being herself, especially not at her job.

“What ethnicity are you? Are you Indian?”

“No, actually I am mixed. I am Black and Mexican.”

“Ugh! Those Blacks and Mexicans need to stick to their own race and stop mixing with one another!”

Stunned and grossly offended, Raquel complained to her manager, who ignored the racist comment and sent her to lunch.

This moment has stuck with Raquel for years, and it is only one of the many times she has encountered this type of discrimination as a mixed individual.

According to the US Census Bureau, the amount of people identifying with two races or more increased by 32% from 2000 to 2010. The nation’s mixed population is growing as more people identify with multiple ethnic backgrounds.

Unfortunately, they may also experience the same discrimination that Raquel faced at her job. For some mixed people, it is easier to identify with just one race so as to avoid being judged, insulted, or scrutinized.

Raquel is one of those victims who felt that she had to hide a part of who she is so as to avoid being an outcast.

“I tell people that I am just Black because it is most people’s first impression of me,” she said.

Raquel is an African and Mexican American female with her associate’s degree in social science. She stated that because she does not speak Spanish, she feels that she cannot truly identify with her Mexican roots. She cannot relate to her Mexican-half since she does not feel that she was exposed to this culture, especially the language. “It has limited me from more job opportunities,” she said.

Yet, she believes “being mixed is a good thing because it means more diversity.”
Mackenzie Rossi is a female Mexican and Caucasian, a second-year business economics student. “I tell people that I am ‘White,’ so as not to confuse people, or explain why or how I am mixed,” she said. Unlike Raquel, she was exposed to her Mexican culture, but given a negative view by her grandfather.

“My grandpa (who emigrated to the US from Mexico) felt that I should identify solely with being White, especially when going to school, because he felt that in US society, it was not OK to be Mexican.” The schools she attended while growing up influenced her decision to identify with one race.

“It wasn’t until high school I began to identify with both ethnicities. It’s a struggle to be mixed because other ethnicities don’t accept you; you feel like you don’t have a ‘home.’ ”

Fortunately, Mackenzie also found being mixed to be a positive characteristic, “You are getting the best of both worlds!”

Ivan Pena-Aparicio, a third-year human biology in society student, had a different perspective on being mixed in the US, especially because he was raised in Latin America.

Ivan is Panamanian, Spanish, and Brazilian. Although he identifies with one race to avoid confusion, he appreciates being mixed. “I embrace all of them and don’t necessarily choose one over the other, but I say Latino because it is an ethnicity that most people can recognize.”

Originally from Latin America, Ivan realized that the perception of mixed people in the US differs significantly from the perceptions of those in Latin America. “In Latin America, it is more common to be mixed. It wasn’t until I came to the US that I realized people who were mixed were affected in a negative way because they felt they couldn’t fit in with the majority or the minority that they are mixed with.”

Ivan feels that because he is not from the US, he doesn’t face the same struggle as those who were born mixed in America. “It is not that I’m mixed but that those from the US that are mixed aren’t okay with being that way.”

For this reason, he co-founded the UCLA Mixed Student Union. An organization that focuses on multi-cultural dialogues which encourage people to become more open-minded and learn something new about someone else’s culture.

“Being mixed is talking about mixed experiences, something that many of the students at UCLA share in common – that they may not identify as being mixed, but in many ways are.”

These individuals have different views of what it means to be mixed and the struggles that go along with it. The Census Bureau has proven that there is an increase in the mixed population, which probably continue to grow in the future.

Thus, it appears, as said by Raquel, “I want people to see me as both ethnicities, not just one.”

Illustration by Jonathan Horcasitas.

Race: The R-word: Cultural sensitivity and dialogue; their absence in UC campuses

After suffering what she considered a great social injustice, Alexandra Wallace got on YouTube and ranted about how Asians were too loud in the library. Within hours, the video went viral and it was immortalized on the Internet.

Should I or anyone else, be surprised, seeing as the persistent trend of racialized incidents in UC schools?

Numerous racist attacks such as the “Compton Cookout”, thrown by a fraternity at UCSD, or the noose found hanging at a UCSD library, and the swastikas carved into dorm doors at UC Davis indicate that UC campuses have a long way to go in fostering environments of tolerance and cultural sensitivity.

Instances of racial and ethnic intolerance have initiated response from many student groups, but their impact on campuses still resonate deeply.

Here at UCLA, Wallace’s comments sparked numerous emotional responses.

At first glance, Julie Pham thought that the Wallace video might be a joke but realizing it was not, she became enraged.

“I think that Wallace’s comments [proved] her to be very ignorant,” Pham said, “Asians are not the only ones that are loud. These are stereotypes that perpetuate hateful thinking that do nothing for social change and understanding.”

Victor Chan, a fourth-year biology student, is of Asian descent and identifies as Latino. His grandfather emigrated from China to Columbia, Chan’s birthplace and home.

When Chan first saw the video, he was in disbelief.

“The first thing I did after watching the video was to make sure that Wallace in fact was a UCLA student. When I found out she was a student, it really upset me,” said Chan, “being an individual that has dealt with being part of more than one culture, I have always hoped that people would be more understanding [of] one another, and learn about one another’s cultures.”

Recently, Chan and members of his Latino fraternity, Nu Alpha Kappa, held a taco sale fundraiser on Cinco de Mayo. They overheard students nearby demean the holiday by calling it “Drink-o de Mayo” as well as saying, “Oh I love Cinco de Mayo, that’s when all the tacos come out.”

Disappointed by their attitude, Chan said, “They don’t respect the day, nor do they even try to learn about it.” All of the different people and organizations on our campus share a responsibility to begin addressing these issues, especially among our diverse student groups.

While this incident was only lived by a few members of the UCLA population, it is still a strong example of interpersonal aggressions that that promote ethnocentrism.

Changing what we know about diverse groups is essential to changing how we talk about them. UCLA students expressed their support for a more ethnically inclusive learning experience in the recent USAC election, as 62.9 percent voters approved the Communicating Unity through Education initiative, which seeks to reform general education curriculum to include a diversity requirement.  Although this change to the curriculum has yet to go into effect, UCLA is making institutional moves towards creating a critical ethnic discourse.

“If we were to start to have open dialogue about the many different cultures that exist at UCLA, then we would be able to avoid such intolerance on our campus,” said Pham.

Whether it be the swastikas carved into doors, indecent party themes, or a video that demeans an ethnic group, it is abundantly clear to me that there needs to be open dialogue to help heal the social rift of these transgressions.

Question 9

I was home for the weekend, eating dinner in the kitchen and talking to my mom about my week at school. It was last month, when the government made every effort to urge people to fill out the 2010 Census. So after seeing one of those TV census commercials, my mom told me she filled out every question of the famous survey. I felt very proud of her since I thought she would have difficulty understanding the questions—not that she can’t read or anything, but you know how complicated things can get with politics and the government. While thinking what a good job my mom had done, she then said, “but I still need to answer one more question.”  With a question mark in her face, my mom asked, “¿mija, que somos?”

I found it interesting, or better yet, annoying and irritating, to see that race and Hispanic origin are separated into different categories.  Not only do we have to decide if we are of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin, but we are asked again to classify our race.

Allow me to problematize these questions. First of all, Latino, although it sounds nice and even exotic, is a term used exclusively for people who come from Spanish speaking countries south of the border. But doesn’t Europe have Latinos too? After all, Italians, French, Romanians, etc. are also of Latin origin.  Secondly, one can come from a Spanish speaking country but not be of Hispanic/Latin heritage. Most countries have Indigenous communities that are secluded or excluded from the greater city life and have to learn Spanish as a second language.

The census also left me in awe whe I saw Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, listed as races next to white and black. So I ask: do they want to know our country of origin or our skin color?  Maybe the answer is both. Thus I find that the last option for question nine, “some other race”, is the most pertinent option. In my opinion, there should only be one racial/ethnic question next time, that way people can have the liberty to write in answers that they consider most appropriate to define themselves and are not limited to imposed options.

Time magazine reports that in the 2000 Census, more than 40% of Hispanics did not register as white or black but rather as “other.” Angelo Falcón, the National Institute for Latino Policy in New York City president and census community adviser told Time that “a lot of Hispanics find the black-white option offensive, and they’re asserting their own racial uniqueness.”  As for me, I consider myself, and most of my paisanos mestizos.

So after analyzing all these discrepancies and incongruities (which are not only applicable to Hispanics/Latinos), I laugh at myself for telling my mom we are white; I should have said what I really believe we are, mestizos.

March: To Bean or Not to Bean

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! According to the fine folks behind the U.S. Census as well as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Latinos are…white!

Caray! All those years of racial segregation, oppression, and resentment turn out to be just a big, 500-year-old misunderstanding! If we can all kindly deposit our now-void Race Cards into your designated drop-off site, gracias, the “racism-doesn’t-exist-now-get-out-my-neighborhood-Brownies!” conservatives would greatly appreciate it. Gangsters and vatos locos, to your nearest tattoo dude; they’ll laser your “Brown Pride” tat right off (maybe they’ll take care of your dragon that looks more like a dolphin, too).

Now, now, before I get too into the tarado-ness committed, maybe I should offer the reasoning behind why so many of us read “Hispanic origins are not races” on our census forms. According to the definitions set down by the U.S. Census Bureau, being Hispanic, Latino, Puerto Rican, etc. is an ethnic designation, while race is categorized by “non-scientific…social and cultural characteristics” and “ancestry” (huh?); thus, races are constructs such as black, white, “American Indian,” and (strangely enough) nationalities, too, like Vietnamese. In other words, one can be ethnically Latino but be racially black, white, American Indian, or some other race.

I suppose for many Hispanics calling themselves white will be a non-issue, a source of Eurocentric pride even. But I can’t help wondering where the majority of us Latinos – those that acknowledge both our Hispanic and indigenous roots – fit exactly. Are we still, after half a millennium of ancestry, to be regarded a mix of white and native? Are we some oil and vinegar concoction destined never to become a zesty blend worthy of our own dressing bottle? After all, the Ku Klux Klan never sent me an E-vite to one of their B.Y.O.S. (bring your own sheet!) hoedowns.

Then again, getting pissy over the narrow-mindedness of bureaucrats is like being shocked about finding traffic on the 405. But what made me really drop my taco in disbelief was seeing Mayor Villaraigosa on the local news, being interviewed about the confusion over the census’ racial question. His response? He says he personally checked “white,” because that’s what Latinos are, all while giving that slimy car salesman smirk of his. I mean, this guy got so much slack for being a member of MEChA in his original run for the mayor’s office. Slap on a headdress, make him give you that patented smile, and you have a dead ringer for Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indian’s mascot! You can practically see the cactus blooming from his forehead, for Quetzalcoatl’s sake! Qué vergüenza!

So congratulations, the U.S. Census and the most honorable Mayor Villaraigosa, March’s Tarados del Mes.