If This Box Isn’t Me, Then Who Am I?


illustration by Jayden Barnes

Ari Matias Perez, Co-Editor in Chief, Co-News Editor

Ever since I could remember, my Mexican culture has been part of my personal identity and everyday life.  I never had to question the color of my skin or the fact that I am Latina.  Recently, however, I’ve had to question everything.  

In my opinion, there has been an increase in the talk about race and ethnicity.  There has been great good that comes out of these discussions, but with so much talk about discrepancies within our society they have become a bit toxic.  

Many people from the Hispanic and Latino community have expressed their experiences as people of color on social media.  Instead of being listened to, they have been bombarded with comments along the lines of “But you’re white,” and “Latino is not a race.”  Although the term Hispanic/Latino is not technically a race but an ethnicity, this reminder felt dismissive and derogatory.  

Despite knowing this, a lot of people, including myself, still refer to themselves as Latino because it’s really the only term that could describe us.  Whenever filling out a document in which you need to select a race, like the census, the options are usually; White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.  In regards to this, you can see how as a Mexican there isn’t a clear choice.  Most Latinos are Mestizos, which are people who are both European and Indiginous.  Obviously there is a wide range of percentages that someone could be.  Despite this, a lot of my life I just marked “White” (sorry ancestors) because I didn’t think I belonged anywhere else.

I never thought I could consider myself Native American or Indiginous because I wasn’t close to that side of my ancestry.  Our native tongue was lost in my family two generations ago with my great-grandmother.  I wasn’t even given an opportunity to be connected with my indiginious side and to be subjected amongst the very same people who stripped that away from me felt like I was betraying something within me.  Someone like me, browned skinned and quite clearly not white, is subjected into a box of “whiteness”. 

The people that push this idea of whiteness onto us are, perhaps even unknowingly, participating in modern day assimilation.  It feels like they were trying to dig away at the very little roots of history we had left in our ancestry. In my experience, Indigenous people are one of the only minorities that need to prove how indiginous they are.  We can’t just be idiginous.  The truth is most people in the world today were colonized and have European blood, so I don’t understand the constant desire to undermine the Latino and Indiginous experience and reject them as people of color.  What hurt as much, or perhaps even more, is the fact that other people of color are also pushing this idea onto us.  You’d think that people that go through similar struggles would understand the damage this could cause. 

As I came to these realizations, I’ve become more comfortable referring to myself as Indiginous.  Although I still have much to learn and accept about myself, I like to think I’ve begun the process of breaking free from the boxes I’ve been confined to.