Neighbor: Did Sabine have blood drawn when she was nine months old to test for lead in her system?
Me: No, she's never had blood drawn.
Neighbor: Well, we went to the lab at our doctor's office today to have this done and I don't think it was necessary. And the nurse who was drawing the blood was (she looked left, then right and whispered) Mexican. And she had all this makeup on. She looked like a clown. And she was (again, whispering) Mexican. She didn't even know my baby's name even though her chart was right there. She couldn't find her vein and the baby was crying. It was awful.
Me: (SILENCE. TOTALLY SPEECHLESS. AND THINKING, I guess she has no idea that I'm Mexican.)
I ended the conversation and walked inside my house and shut the door. Because Sabine is not deaf. Since I'm Mexican, she's Mexican. And I don't want her to hear such hateful things at such a young age even though she doesn't have any idea what they mean. But also, Christina was with us. Christina is our six-year-old neighbor who does know what these things mean. And now I know why Christina told me that day that she's American, not Mexican, even though she's definitely one hundred percent Mexican.
Does our blonde neighbor think nurses who are Mexican are injecting cocaine into her child's veins? Does she think the nurse is inept because of her skin color/nationality? What is wrong with people? She's a certified nurse in the U.S., where it's mandatory that she's just as educated and practiced as any Caucasian nurse in that facility.
The problem with being half one thing and half something else is that people never really know what I am. So I'm an uncomfortable fly on the wall of sorts. I can "pass," as they say, which means I'm in the position of knowing exactly what people would say about Mexicans assuming there were no Mexican people within earshot. If I wore my Mexican ethnicity on my skin, said neighbor never would've let on that she thinks "Mexican" is a dirty word.
The ability to pass affords me a certain luxury: I'm accepted as Caucasian because I don't look Mexican. That means that I, for the most part, haven't experienced racism in a direct, personal way: I haven't had someone overtly treat me as less than because of my ethnicity. But what I have had is many people, such as my dear neighbor, be so uninhibited by my appearance that they confess hatred or disdain toward Mexicans--toward me. When a hater doesn't think their subject is listening, their words can be more cutting, more brutal and there's no mistaking hate or disgust for anything else.
I think it's funny that my judgey judgerton neighbor thought her nurse wasn't good enough because she was Mexican. Especially since it's become crystal clear via several conversations I've had with miss Gladys Kravitz, that I can run circles around her when it comes, to intellect, ability, experience, and clearly, cultural awareness--and I'm only half a Mexican.
"The problem with being half one thing and half something else is that people never really know what I am." Image via Observando