By: Nicole Lashomb*/Editor-in-Chief—
¡“Buenos Dias! ¿Dormiste bien”?, are two simple phrases frequently used to start my day, my day as a bi-cultural and bilingual white woman with a large Hispanic family that has been immersed into my wedded culture. For more than a decade, Spanish has been the second language spoken in my home, a home I proudly share with my wife and her family who frequently stays with us throughout the year. I find myself cooking meals mostly from Spanish/Puerto Rican cuisine and warmly embracing traditional concepts of pride, family, respect, and trust. This second culture of mine has changed the way I view the world and has made me thankful that that has been the case.
I have found myself identifying more with the culture that is built on honor and loyalty, honoring the close relationships in your life, while never accepting disrespect dished out from loved ones or others. I’ve said for a number of years that although I look “white” on the outside, there is a fierce person of color on the inside.
In my privileged societal position, and no, I am not referring to social class or monetary value here, I’ve learned about the unfair advantage I have over people of color. I’ve received preferential treatment numerous times, not because I am better qualified for a job, deserve an acceptance to a university more or should receive that office promotion, but simply because I am white. I’ve learned that my race has opened doors and opportunities for me that may otherwise not be there if my ancestry were different. [pullquote]In my privileged societal position, and no, I am not referring to social class or monetary value here, I’ve learned about the unfair advantage I have over people of color.[/pullquote]
The first time that I was aware of such privilege was when we were coming back into the U.S. from Canada. My wife, then girlfriend, was driving. The custom’s agent asked for our identification (this was pre-September 11, when having a U.S. driver’s license sufficed), which we both provided promptly. The officer barely glanced at mine before tossing it back into the car. However, hers, he deliberately stared at for what seemed like an eternity, alternating between her license and her face multiple times. After questioning her origins and other information provided on the license, he told her that she had better get a passport. Outraged at what I was witnessing, I sarcastically asked him “You must be telling me the same, I’m assuming.” Dumbfounded and without words, he stuttered, “tttthat’s right.” As if that wasn’t enough, he then questioned the “nature of our relationship.” I responded “we are lovers.” Disgusted with us, he sent us on our way. To this day, we have never utilized that same small town bridge when traveling between the U.S. and Canada and my wife still carries her U.S. passport everywhere she goes, just as she did on that shameful day.
Other times, people want to place the love of my life in a box, as if that box could even be large enough to encompass the totality of who she is, or who any of us are for that matter. One of the first questions often asked of her by new acquaintances is, “where are you from?” Interestingly enough, that question is rarely asked of me. Even in the middle of business meetings, once a person learns of her origins, often times, the person immediately replies with “Right! I can hear it in your accent.” More flawed thinking. Her “accent” is an amalgamation of the U.S., having lived throughout the country and obtaining her degrees here. When I first met her, she had a southern drawl, believe it or not. I’ve taken those times as an opportunity to educate others about linguistics and presumptive behavior. Usually, they haven’t even visited her motherland or have communicated with indigenous people to accurately conclude where her “accent” is derived, nor should they attempt to do so.
The KKK has literally met her in the face at a celebration she was hosting for the Mexican immigrant community in the South, she has been on racist websites because of her articles in this publication amongst others, and has been targeted because she is a Hispanic Lesbian. At times racism is overt and other times, covert, but it is there nonetheless. [pullquote]At times racism is overt and other times, covert, but it is there nonetheless.[/pullquote]
Some people attempt to empathize with people of color solely based on being a member of the mainstream LGBT community while missing the larger picture. I’m certain that these individuals have not experienced what my family has or what other people of color endure.
The U.S. has proudly touted itself as the melting pot of the world. This only holds true when we recognize the privilege some of of us hold, honor the importance of all our inhabitants, celebrate the uniqueness of all cultures and integrate them into our own lives without discrimination, judgment and preconceived notions. Then, and only then, we will be that melting pot as proclaimed to effectively work on the behalf of all oppressed people.
[Editor’s note: September 15 marks the beginning of the annual National Hispanic Heritage Month. During this month, histories, cultures, and contributions of Hispanic Americans are celebrated, linking cultural roots to Spain, the Caribbean, Africa, Mexico and Central and South America.]
*Nicole is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Rainbow Times. She holds a Bachelor’s from SUNY Potsdam and an MBA from Marylhurst University. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org