identity crisis…

… Well, according to this other nativity scene Jesus was Hispanic, and not Irish after all.

I wish I had known of Jesus’s Latin origins, then maybe I wouldn’t have been so embarrassed of growing up Puerto Rican in white suburbia.

The beginning of every school year was a nightmare, sitting there listening to my new teacher struggle to pronounce my ethnic name – which really isn’t so uncommon anymore. But, in the 80′s no one I knew had a Hispanic sounding last name; my first name wasn’t much better. One time, in high school, I was on the phone with a boy whom I was madly in love with and I heard his mom ask him who he was talking to. He responded, Katrina, and she asked “Is she black!?!” Yes, people are that stupid.

In high school I wanted nothing more than to have blond hair, a thin nose and lips, and a flat butt like the other girls. I wanted to look normal. My swarthy features did not match my pale white Irish skin tone. I resented being Hispanic and not having a tan. If I had to have the burden of racial prejudice, why God, could I not at least have the nice year round tan!?

In college, being an ethnic minority was financially advantageous and for the first time I happily checked “Hispanic” in the race box of my application. That was the closest I came to Latin American culture… except for that one song they play at Christmas time on the radio, you know, to be culturally diverse.

As a grown woman, I struggle marrying the two identities together. In childhood my access to the Puerto Rican side of my family was limited so the Latin influences weren’t there. I don’t even know Spanish except for a few phrases and the naughty words. I suppose I could confidently order a margarita in Tijuana. I know my friend’s don’t mean to leave me out of the conversation, but whenever you get a bunch of boricuas together they naturally slip into lively fast paced Spanish.

Sometimes other Latinas do not even believe I am Hispanic because I’m so white my skin is transparent and I have a ginger headed son. Others take it as a personal affront that I would claim an ethnicity and not known the Spanish language. Sadly, even some Latinas would consider me a traitor to my race for being fully Americanized and against illegal immigration.

On the flip side, a lot of white people think all Latinos look like this….

… and everyone South of Texas is Mexican. Period. Puerto Rican=Mexican. Brazilian= Mexican. Ecuadorian =Mexican. There is no distinction, kinda like Asians. When my mother announced to the family her engagement, my Irish grandmother told her not to bring any Cuban babies over when she was meeting with her Ladies Guild for tea. Cuban, Puerto Rican – eh, whatever.

It’s a strange place, racial limbo, but once I converted to Catholicism the divide seemed substantially less wide. My Sundays became a little more colorful and diverse, and a lot more accepting. I remember my first masses in downtown Nashville with the congregation of hobos, women in mantillas, and nuns in full habit. It was the strangest thing I ever experienced. I kept expecting ushers to remove the homeless people and the ladies to blow their noses with the hankies draped over their heads.

I never understand the accusation of exclusivity within The Church. In fact, once I became comfortable with the mass I became comfortable in my own skin as I found that the Catholic Church is a good place to learn and practice racial diversity. It is made up of so many different cultures that what’s one more mutt to the mix?

About Katrina Fernandez

Mackerel Snapping Papist

  • tj.nelson

    All of my childhood I wanted to be either Hispanic or Italian, because my favorite saints were Italians or Spanish. But I never thought of any Latino as non-white – even the most Aztec looking Mexican – like Juan Diego – I still don’t.

  • Dr. Eric

    Of course the Lord is Mexican, His name is Jesus. ;-)

    I remember calling the local Mexican restaurant and being greeted with “El Torero Mexican Restaurant, this is Chuy how may I help you?”

    I asked him later what Chuy translated as, he said, “It’s short for Jesus.”

    (I know you’re not Mexican, but I’ve never heard of a Puerto Rican man named Jesus.)

  • kenneth

    The magnificence of the female Puerto Rican form is enough all on its own to convince me that there is a divine intelligence in the universe!

  • Jeanne Chabot

    I sort of know how you feel. I grew up in a northern Cree community, but I was white not Cree. So I never “fit in”. When I moved south to the province of Québec, I became the “English” person. (I had previously been known not only as the horrible “whiteman” but also as a French-frog, because my father is French). Not only was I English, I also happened to have picked up the Cree culture, (despite being white) and this resulted in more than a few cultural faux-pas. When I married my husband, and we moved west to English British Columbia, I was once again “French” to the English, but among the French at the French-Canadian Club, I was “English”, this, despite the fact that I spoke better French than a lot of people who were considered Franco-British-Columbians, many of whom did not even speak French anymore, but were still considered “French” because their grandparents were French. Oh, by the way, my Father is French and so were MY grandparents. So technically, that would make me ME French too? No? Now that we are back in La Belle Province, I’m an Anglophone again. (Sighhh) I don’t fit in anywhere.

    • Seraphic

      Honey, whatever else you are, you are most definitely and unambiguously Canadian. Just reading your comment gave me a tremendous feeling of homesickness. Heck, just seeing an English comment under the name Jeanne Chabot makes me homesick. English, French, Cree all at once? Sigh… In my head I’m eating pain au chocolat in Montreal right now…

  • RLeón

    I was lucky, I grew up a Puerto Rican Army brat, there are lots of Boricuas in the Army. The teachers still butchered my name, not because it was Spanish, but because my first name suffered from the Puerto Rican phenomenon of making an amalgamation of the parent’s first names.
    I kind of suffered an identity crisis when I got older though. I didn’t fit into the mold of what a PRican was supposed to be. I now realize that the only place I suffered this crisis was in the States, not in PR. The people in PR are not as monolithic as is believed.
    As far as appearances go in PR you have red heads, blondes and fros. You can be a white, black or somewhere in the middle. We all look different, we just all share the “mancha de platano”.
    Oh, and being an orthodox Catholic and conservative politically I guess I’m considered a traitor too, but for some reason I only get this vibe in the states, not PR.
    So basically my point is I don’t care what the Latinos around here think of me.

  • From The Pews

    Vive la différence!

    Variety IS the Spice of Life…and all those Clichés…

    I never realized I was different until Jr. High. It was then that I realized that Society (So. Cal) tried to make me feel less than.

    Fortunately, my Mami always taught me that God made us all the same. That He loved us all. That No One was better than Any One! That He created the Heavens and the Earth and that we, in Our Selfishness, try to own things and deprive others. But that we Can Change the World! That it starts with Me!

    Growing up in this fashion helped me to overcome the denigration that would occur around me.

    I grew up being called “White Girl” because of my Lighter Skin and my having all different kinds of friends, still do ;) Have all different kind of friends…well, still a Lighter Shade of Brown too =S
    Sometimes it would bother me and due to this I tried to refine my Español, learn México’s History and even lived there for a few years.

    It was then that I discovered that Mexicans, as RLeon say of PRicans, come in all different Shapes, Colours and Sizes! It was Awesome! I fit right in! More important, I learned and realized that this is how it is in Every Culture, in Every Ethnicity, we are ALL DIFFERENT!!!

    There exists no homogeneous race. Close, yes. But not quite. Thank God! I mean seriously, have you Seen how GORGEOUS Babies that have a Rich, Diverse Gene Pool Are?!?!

    I mean, Katrina, You’re BEAUTIFUL!! Irish and PRican, Girl, You’re just Sexy!



    Btw, I am proud to be a Mum to 2 AmeriMexiPinoDians! And they are Gorgeous, if I do say so Myself ;)

  • robertgwirth

    My father’s grandfather came from the Black Forest region, his mother was born in Ireland. My mother’s father was a French-Canadian-Ojibway mix, her mother was a Czech immigrant. I am also an honorary Pole, an honorary Kikuyu, an honorary Scot, an honorary Norwegian, and an honorary Ukrainian.
    “There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, master nor slave, but all are one in Christ Jesus.”

  • Mark Abeln

    Ah, the Church Universal. I go to a parish whose priests are Germans, and belong to a religious order founded in Ghana, and they learned Latin at a French-speaking seminary in Italy, that has many American students. The parish has lots of multiethnic families, and the American women usually wear Spanish-style mantillas.

  • Anthony S. Layne

    Yes, the Universal Church is truly a splendor of different skin shades and cultural backgrounds.

    … So why are the plaster Jesuses and Marys at our bookstores so cloyingly white? Always wondered about that. (Great image of a more Semitic Mary attached!)

  • Marcocrincoli

    Thank God for the Hispanic Jesus. It proves once and for all that Jesus was not Swedish with bleached blond hair and blue eyes.

  • Anonymous

    So imagine trying to explain to folks that my adopted son is Mayan, not Hispanic, and he speaks American English, not whatever dialect of Spanish they speak in the highlands of Guatemala. Mostly, he’s American, and I’m American, and his daddy is American, and that’s enough. If pushed, I will ask him what color I am, and he will say, “Mama-colored.” Because of his nick-name, he is “Punkin-colored.” And of course, we are all drop-dead gorgeous. ;)

  • Raphael

    I’m half Puerto Rican and half [other stuff], and grew up (and live) in small-town Texas. Everyone seems to know that you’re not one of them. White people classify you as Mexican, and Mexican people classify you as not Mexican. But I’ve had the same experience of coming to accept myself more in the Catholic Church. Our parish’s masses must be the most diverse setting between the Red and the Rio Grande.

    A while back, someone of Hispanic descent, upon learning that my children’s names are Victor and Cecilia, asked me if I liked “Mexican” names. They were, I suppose, trying to put me in my place as not-really-Hispanic. I responded: “Ahem. Actually, the names are Latin.”

  • JaneC

    I’m pretty darn white, myself–English, German and Irish. But one sister’s children are half Mexican and the other’s are half Peruvian. My cousins are half Japanese. My brother’s kids, though also as white as can be, are bilingual because their mother is Italian.

    You’re unfortunately right that a lot of white people think everyone south of Texas is Mexican. Someone asked our new priest recently “Why don’t you go back home to Mexico?” It would be a rude enough comment even if he were Mexican, but he’s actually Columbian. As in many bilingual parishes, a lot of the white people tend to treat the Latinos as if they were all uneducated, possibly of child-like understanding, and clueless about European culture (“Why would they be interested in our Euro-centric Gregorian chant?” Um, because they have just as much European heritage as we do, and because they’re Catholic?). It’s sickening that in a Church as diverse as ours, people could still think this way.

  • Paige Deaner

    Interesting take. I’m Cajun, so my culture is pretty maligned and misrepresented in greater society. I wrote a post about how, being an exile from an exiled culture, the only thing I can really retain from my culture is my faith. Being Catholic was as much a part of our culture and identity as anything else (we were exiled from Canada in part because the Cajuns refused to take an oath to the monarch and Church of England).

  • dhpater09

    since i can be dense sometimes, I thought i understood equality…realized i didn’t truly understand it until one sunday in Mass. i was watching every individual approach and receive the Eucharist. Then! true equality came to me.

    i was just the opposite from you. Irish last name, anglo-irish ancestors. But i am very dark complected with black hair and mustache. Got called “Sanchez”. i took it as a compliment and still do

  • ceciliamaria

    I can relate to that strange racial limbo! I was brown in a white world and white in a brown world. It reminds me of what the father in the movie Selena says: “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans! It’s exhausting!” I finally gave up trying to prove my worthiness to be considered one or the other and accepted myself as the best of all my nationalities combined! Between the German organization, the Irish wit and the Mexican passion, it doesn’t get much better! (My sister Rosario claims that with all the qualities listed above she is the perfect person. I make no such claims but I admit that I am pretty damn close to perfection!)

  • Apstemp

    I actually had someone seriously make that Mexican comment to me. I was going on a student exchange in Argentina, and was solemnly warned; “Be careful down there, They’re nothing but a bunch of Mexicans down there.” I agreed, and noted that it had gotten so bad there was hardly any room for the Argentinians. I got a blank look at that one.