Journalism I student Krista Shumaker’s grandparents are pictured above in a collage that spans their 50 years of marriage. Shumaker’s maternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba and met in Miami, Florida in 1958. Photo courtesy of Liz Shumaker
Journalism I Student Krista Shumaker talks about her experiences and struggles as a “pale Latina.”
I am talking one day in class amongst my peers about how I am having a quinceanera.
One of them starts laughing. I ask why, and he proceeds to ask, “How can you have a quinceanera if you are not Latina.” I told the group that I am, in fact, Latina, and they responded by pointing out my fair complexion.
My peers do not think they are being rude when they ask me, “Why are you so white?” or “Wait, you’re actually Latina? I thought you were just joking.” But to me, this is a constant reminder of how difficult it is for people to believe my ethnicity. People persistently question whether I am Latina and I continuously have to reassure them I am.
My grandparents both immigrated to Miami, Florida from Cuba in 1958 to escape the hostile environment of Cuba and start a better life in the U.S, where my mother, siblings and I are from.
I identify with my Cuban culture, but my appearance comes from my father who is Caucasian. People assume that to be Latina, one must have tan skin and dark hair, and when I tell them that I, a pale, freckled girl, am Latina, they are shocked because I do not fit the stereotype.
When I tell my peers that I am having a quinceanera when I turn 15, a celebration in many Hispanic countries that symbolizes the transition into being a women, they are surprised. When I tell them about other Cuban traditions I follow like eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve to represent the 12 months of the year or how you kiss your relatives on one cheek no matter your relation, they are confused.
They think that although I am Latina, my appearance means that I do not follow Cuban traditions or customs.
No, I am not being overdramatic about my culture. No, I am not “three percent Cuban.”
Appearance does not determine my family’s origin, the culture I was brought up in or my ethnicity.