Funny, you don’t look Mexican!

by Sara Inés Calderón on December 29, 2011 in Cultura

doesntlook“You don’t look Mexican” is something I hear a lot. I hear it from whites, African-Americans, Asians, Mexican nationals, Latinos from Latin America, just about everyone. Of course, in polite company, I usually respond, “Oh, yeah, I get that a lot.”

In my head, however, I usually think, “What, exactly does is a Mexican ‘supposed’ to look like?” This is, in turn, followed by some expletives.

I find it uncanny that, in 2011 with a country and a world that is increasingly multiracial, that educated people still assume that certain people are “supposed” to look one way or another. Boggles my mind.

So, since I don’t “look” Mexican, I get assigned a variety of other nationalities, ethnicities and races, depending on the particular situation and circumstance. I’ve had people on the phone ask me if I was French. People from Argentina want me to be from there. Some who have travelled through Latin American assume automatically that I’m Chilean or Colombian.

Because my surname has a similar equivalent in Italian, I often get assigned that ethnicity by people on the East Coast. Some people, remarkably considering my obvious border Spanish, even try to make me into a Cuban or a Puerto Rican. Whatever.

It’s not that I’m personally offended by being assigned all these other ethnicities or nationalities, that’s not it at all. I’m just perplexed that people feel the need to play “Let’s Guess The Race” with me so often. I don’t go around doing this with other people; quite frankly if I don’t know where people are from, in most day-to-day activities, it doesn’t really affect my interactions with them. If people want to share a little about their cultural background with me, I’m always eager to learn, but I don’t screen my conversations this way.

And, I guess what bothers me the most is that there’s a very apparent stereotyping (if not prejudice) playing in the background of these conversations. If Mexicans aren’t light-skinned with green eyes, then they’re….what? Dark brown with black hair, a burro and a saguaro cactus? What’s implied in that statement “You don’t look like a Mexican”? Whatever it is, I don’t like it.

Can you kick in
$5 or $10 or $25
so we can
make more ñews y satire?

Por Plis?


I don’t think it’s hatred or racism necessarily that prompts people to engage in these conversations. It could be discomfort, curiosity, interest or a great many other things. But, the probability that it’s happened to me enough times that it prompts me to write this column is an indication that there’s a bigger theme there, too. Maybe people think they’re being sensitive by quizzing me until they “figure out” what my deal is? I don’t know, though, because I’ve never asked.

Sara Inés Calderón is on the Twitter: @SaraChicaD

Thanks to NewsTaco for this story.


Claudio February 21, 2013 at 11:32 AM

Everyday, it seems, this comes out. There was a time when I would openly pretend this or that. I have embraced Pocho as of late, because that either gets the point across, or they’re too embarrased to ask further. Since I’m not light skinned, I would say it’s an arab or indian thing, (and at times they assume I’m Jewish,because I can be way too sarcastic, and then the stereotype of others comes to bite me too) and the fear with which they react gives me a window to move on and out of their talking range.
Now living in Boston, is kinda fun playing the game at their expense, but back in Los Anglos, it was mostly Mexicans doing that to me. Either way, it’s messed up to carry that. Once, a white Brazilian (who had never ever met a mexican in her life, since she was here visiting)told me”Wow, you’re so smart, it’s hard to believe you’re mexican” Thing is, in her messed up head, that was a compliment. These days, I use several languages when I’m out with my daughter, and let obvious eavesdroppers figure out whatever they can put together.
Good work. I wish you good luck, and thank you for this piece.

A.T August 28, 2013 at 1:40 PM

I’m Mexican and have dark under eyes, sooooo… people think I’m Middle eastern. I get that from everyone and even my own race 🙁 dark skinned and under eyes means your Middle eastern i suppose.

Chica September 30, 2013 at 8:36 AM

Since I moved to a more white filled area, I’ve gotten a wide variety of ethnicities.

The most popular has been Hawaiian or Polynesian because I have almond shaped eyes and brown skin. I’ve even gotten half-black, half-white because of certain, ahem, other assets.

Stop trying to guess, cabron. Stop asking “what are you” when it really doesn’t matter to you. Maybe I should start saying “You look russian” to every random white person that says stuff to me. Might give them a taste of their own medicine.

rupert October 12, 2013 at 2:55 PM

Its curiosity! I’m guilty of doing this same exact thing when I have interactions with ome body and I’m not quite sure what their heritage is. Its prompted by affection and good will. Never meant to make anybody uncomfortable. But I don’t do this that much any more as I’ve learned it may make some individuals feel uncomfortable.

J Brockman April 3, 2014 at 9:20 AM

I’m that way too. Mostly I’m interested in where a person is from rather than ethnicity or race. If a person replies, “all over” I assume they were in a military family or something similar. An Hispanic friend has been assumed to have been Hawaiian based just on looks.

To me it is just conversation. My guess whatever the conversation starter there would be complaints. I was born a blue eyed, tow head but somehow evolved into a olive skinned, very very tan in summers with kind of kinky hair; now mostly bald. I remember being on the receiving end of similar questions or inquiries at various times during my life. Didn’t bother me much. Who knows what the DNA knows?

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