A complex identity
February 15, 2021
It's very complicated, because if you go to the census, or most places when they ask you to mark your race, Latinx or Hispanic doesn't count exactly as a race. It's more of an ethnic background, or cultural background. My father is a dark skinned Puerto Rican, my mother is a very light skinned Puerto Rican. But they're not... They're both... It's very complicated, like the identity of a Puerto Rican. Especially in my case, because even though my dad is dark skinned and could be considered Afro Caribbean, he and I think part of my family don't consider themselves Black or African Americans. But they're also not White. Yet my mother, if you were to look at them just by the color of their skin and whatnot, you will assume that my mother is White and my father is Black. So when I am forced to check boxes, I mark both of those just because of the inherent mix of Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans, traditionally, when we think about them, we always think about it's a combination of Spanish heritage, Taínos, which is our indigenous heritage, and African heritage. But that doesn't fit within boxes, and the Puerto Rican identity doesn't fit within boxes especially regarding race. So how identify, I identify as Puerto Rican.
That's a mix; I'm both Afro Caribbean but I also know that because my skin is not as stark as some of my cousins, for example, I come with many privileges of almost White passing, not quite. I still don't White pass exactly, but if we're talking about something more objective as how I mark myself in census and other kinds of surveys, I usually mark both White and Black, sometimes indigenous if they include more indigenous understanding, in honor of my ancestry. White Spaniards, black Africans and native Taínos. But always making sure that if they offer the options of heritage to mark Hispanic or Latino.
It doesn't anger me as much as it used to. But I do have some resentment and disappointment in the way that these kinds of surveys are constructed, and the kind of people that they're looking to target or the kind of people that they're emphasizing. Because again, many of them do not include Latinx identity or Hispanic identity, or this idea of Mestizaje or mixed ethnic backgrounds, on their race. Race is always Black, White, Native Pacific Islander; things like that. They only include what I consider to be my identity under ethnic group or culture, which tends to be optional, or even sometimes not even included. So I just still hold a little bit of resentment of being forced to check boxes that I don't feel truly encompass who I am. Because also from the thinking about what they intend to survey or to measure, and what they actually mean behind the labels that they've written down in the options, I know that even though I've marked both of them, it's not really what I am. I'm not White in the sense that the United States understands Whiteness. I'm not Black in the sense that the United States understands Blackness. But there's no other option for me to mark down. It's just problematic.
There's no such thing as an intersectional identity, but there is an identity that stands at the intersection of different axes of power. Being a queer person is definitely a challenge. But being a queer Latinx person of color is a very particular specific challenge. It's similar but not the same experience, and will never be the same experience that let's say a person that is just Latinx, or a person that is just queer but is white. The way that interferes with where I am placed in society.
Lau Ortiz Mercado
Lau Ortiz Mercado is a graduate student in their final year pursuing a PhD in English Literature. They specialize in Early Modern literature with minors in Gender Studies and Screen Culture Studies.