Monday, July 18, 2011

Shhh, She's Mexican

Last week I was walking to our front door with Sabine, when my blonde-haired, blue-eyed neighbor from Portland stopped with her nine-month-old baby to ask me a question. The conversation went like this:

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


Miss A said...

Oh non : (((
I don't have the words. It's absolutly mind blowing.
There must be a place in this world where you don't hear this crap as much. Oh wait there is. New York. Move back.

Debra said...

Oh Laura, as I was reading your post, my blood pressure began to rise. It rose because people can be so ignorant. It rose because I, too, have experienced this kind of prejudice. I am Jewish and I suppose some people think that they can spot someone who is Jewish, but in reality, they can't. I do not have a Jewish last name(my husband is also Jewish but he converted), and I do not necessarily "look" Jewish. On several occasions people have inadvertently made very derogatory statements about Jews in front of me thinking I was just like them. Usually, I let the person know that I am Jewish so that they might think about making such statements again in the future.

I am sorry for your ignorant neighbor. How dare she insinuate that someone cannot properly do a job because they are Mexican! One of these days, you will have to slip it into the conversation that you and your daughter are, indeed, Mexican. People like your neighbor need to be shamed for saying the things that they do!


Miss A said...


How insane, because this is where our experience is similar. Since people can't tell that I'm jewish I have absolutly heard horrific things about jews. Its just so hard.
And we're in 2011.

Katherine said...

I am also half Mexican (Laura's sister) and I'll never forget the day a friend's brother picked me up for school (high school) and said "Why does your brother (who was in the driveway at the time) look Mexican?", to which I responded, "because we are". He (my friend's brother) by the way is a racist son of a bitch and I won't even mention the other things I've heard out of his mouth. I have very pale skin (dad) and almost black hair (mom). I'm rarely assumed to be Mexican. The interesting thing is that since that horrible day on 9/11 many people have decided I'm Egyptian or Iranian and in certain areas I've encountered some very hostile attitudes. Shortly after 9/11, I was in Arizona for a get together with my in-laws (who by the way are also 1/2 Mexican) and the looks I received made me fear for my physical safety. One person, a stranger, actually asked me "what are you?". If it wasn't so scary, it would be ridiculous.

Miss A said...

Shit Katherine.
The world... is scary. I'm sorry that you, Laura, Debbie, Me and millions of other have to endure racism and prejudism. What is tough for me is that we are fighting the good fight, but are our kids also going to have to fight it?

danamite said...

Your writing skills make a story like this leap off the page - I got angry tears from this & I can't imagine what you felt like... being able to "pass" can be difficult to bear because of hearing what people believe they can say... stick it to 'em!

Thank you so much for your incredible blog & gorgeous writings - I actually got linked her via a management blog that I read called Ask A Manager ... here is where she linked to you...


Laura Mauk said...

Thank you, you guys, for your understanding and shared experiences and kind words. I love hearing your comments and the warm, encouraging stuff come right out of your head, fingers and onto these cyber pages :)

atreyuamor said...

Wow the things some people say are such a trip. Omg.

Nancy said...

Your neighbors are mean! My husbands have been told to "Go back where you came from!" many a times. And they don't never know what to say when he says "Jersey?"


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