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The gray area of my identity

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MARCH 03, 2023

I am constantly residing in a gray area when it comes to my identity. Floating between the two worlds of being American and Latina, I seem to not fit into either. I find it difficult to fully adapt to the differing cultures. I am either too “American” when I am trying to fit in with my Latin community at home, or I am too “brown” for the many Americans I encounter at my university.

Clothing, trends and discourse change through space and time. Gen Z as a generation is constantly changing its trends, ranging from clothing to music to identity. I have an older sister who was born an immigrant, who grew up wearing thin brows, crop tops and brown liner. She fits the perfect description of a “Y2K Latina.” My siblings and I all grew up with a set notion of what a “Latina” was.  

However, as I got older, I often noticed myself aligning my style to match current trends. This meant that I ditched the stereotypical Latina style and began dressing according to American clothing trends, such as “aesthetic clothes.” 

But I didn’t stop there. Fitting into the current trends also meant becoming a “whitewashed Latina.” This refers to Latinas who have surrounded themselves so frequently in white, Americanized culture that they lose any kind of “latinidad” that they have. I began to speak less Spanish, hid my POC facial features with excessive makeup and stopped embracing my traditions. Soon enough, I had completely lost sight of my identity as a Latina. The girl in the mirror looked nothing like my family, and they never failed to remind me of that.

“Ya no te miras Latina, te miras guerra,” my family would say to me. “You don’t look Latin anymore, you look white.” It was clear to me that my Spanish had become broken. I could no longer speak whole sentences in Spanish without breaking in some English words. What was once so natural became an undeniable struggle. 

However, along with breaking clothing barriers, Gen Z social media also managed to break generational trauma barriers.  Discussions on social media from this new generation of POC, specifically Latine youth, dove into questioning and reanalyzing strongly held Latine traditions such as “machismo,” or extreme masculinity and the overlooked oppression of women. From these discussions, I learned to no longer take disrespect from the men in my family like I usually did. 

I had developed a newfound consciousness for our behaviors as a Latine family, and I am proud to say that I eventually grew enough courage to actually confront my family members for their problematic behavior. But of course, any time a family member questions any traditions, it leads to “No te malcomportes — eso es para gringas,” or “Don’t misbehave — that’s for white girls.” Latina women are supposed to sit pretty, quietly and definitely never question the men. The further I deviated from this expectation, the more I felt I was slowly drifting away from my Latin culture. I no longer felt I represented what a “true” Latina was.

My biggest mistake, however, was believing that I would be able to find solace with the student body at my university. Upon arriving at UC Berkeley, I naively hoped that all students were “woke,” where all the students would hold an awareness for the different identities on campus. A large portion of the student body at UC Berkeley is white. Therefore, through some odd thought process I can’t explain, I thought I’d easily get along with people here. We all dress similarly and enjoy matcha lattes and conversations on controversial history. Boy, was I wrong. 

I found it immensely difficult to find common ground with students at UC Berkeley. It wasn’t because we didn’t have similar interests, but rather because our backgrounds created a gaping divide that couldn’t be bridged through small talk. I could try faking all I wanted, but the fact that they were white and I wasn’t was a constant thought lingering at the back of my mind. Their ability to have financial stability and resources while I didn’t manifested in multiple instances. From phrases to mannerisms, we differed immensely in the ways we interacted with the world around us. All the trendy clothing in the world couldn’t change the fact that I’m a brown Latina, and it wears on my face like a bad makeup day. Everyone notices it, but chooses to ignore it.

Now, I find myself in a constant state of meandering. I wander between identities, never fully embodying myself in any. I have become too “gringa” for my Latine community, but will always be too “POC” for Americans. This brings me to question what a “true” Latina is. Is there actually a real and pure representation of a Latina that bears no influence from Americanization? If so, where do I, and many others like me questioning our longstanding traditions, belong?  

Labels and identities confine us to boundaries that couldn’t possibly fit us all. Our newer generations become victims through these labels by never fully resonating with an identity and becoming the deviants. It is time we began theorizing new identities, ones that encompass contemporary representations of POC. Because if one thing is true, it’s that questioning our structure doesn’t make us any less worthy of our POC identity. 

Keylin Vasquez writes the Friday column on being a person of color at UC Berkeley. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

MARCH 03, 2023