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.


JoeRayCr8iv December 29, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Even w/ border Spanish? That’s usually a giveaway. I feel your pain!

I’ve developed quite the humor about it through the years though, especially since no one in Mexico has ever said that to me. Throw in some madrazos and it usually serves as a definite throw down. A friend of mine from Guadalajara who is guero gets asked that by Chicanos from the south side quite a bit. He has some good insights about that, especially since he’s only been in the US for less than 10 years and has a very thick accent.

My experience these days is that more educated people ask that question. Maybe it’s more inquisitive in a genuine manner.

And yes, the Euro thing gets tossed around quite a bit as a “fill in the blanks/guess the ethnicity”.

Glad you wrote this!

Sara Inés Calderón January 10, 2012 at 6:06 PM

yes! thanks joe!

cristal December 31, 2011 at 9:05 AM

I am also gald you wrote this! I can totally relate. I am mexican american and light skinned with colored eyes and dark hair. People usually ask if im palestinian or from spain but when I say I am Mexican they usually look as in disbelief. I too wonder why people do this… when I have cousins in Mexico who have blonde hair and blue eyes… people need to come out of their bubbles and see the beautiful and colorful world we live in with a multitude of different ethnicities and cultures.

Sara Inés Calderón January 10, 2012 at 6:06 PM

go girl!

Armando Cepeda January 2, 2012 at 3:02 PM

Sara, you are absolutely white, I mean . . right! You’re absolutely right. Whee, that one almost got away. Anyway, I have been mistaken for being Filipino so many times that I am beginning to call myself Mexi-pinoy boy just for the hell of it. Pero, people can be so ignorant. When these pendejos say that you look like another ethnicity, especially white,” they are making two statements at the same time: 1. They are subconsciencely stating that being white is superior to others and that, 2. They are saying that you look white to make you feel part of the “team” were you will be better off in society. Look at the Telenovelas for proof. They are just a guilty of racism as anyone.

Sara Inés Calderón January 10, 2012 at 6:07 PM

armando, lol, so crazy!

wassupconan July 27, 2012 at 7:03 AM

lol what an idiotic statement by someone who probably calls himself a proud and brown mexican american lol. except for a couple of words u know in spanish i havent seen a single valid thing u said. first of all not all mexicans are brown so this girl can be white and mexican cuz mexican is not a race. theres a bunch of white mexicans even in mexico as well as in US. u just dont know theyre mexican when u see them thinking theyre just US whites. plus not all mexicans are brown like american media tells u every day, mexicans come in all colors literally. just cuz someone in US told u that mexicans are brown by default it doesnt make so lol. Oprah is brown, and most of the mexicans are far from that color. US people are mostly color blind when it comes to telling colors apart. and what is white exactly if by that u mean ppl that came from europe ah well heck most of the mexicans did came from there they just dont have to be pale for them to be white. and just because those same ppl mixed heavily with natives doesnt make them non white like US fucktards think. ure probably one of those mexican american who thinks hes aztec or mayan all the way being on of the delusional ppl in USA who dont know what the heck they are :).

chiconkey October 17, 2012 at 12:29 AM

I guess it can be good! I moved to Seattle from LA and was pocho 100%…….when I got around whites, they thought I had to be italian. Since all the mexicans they had ever seen looked like cantiflas or dark as idians.

Well all the white chicks dug it in High School, and I kid you not I was seximexi from 10th grade till I graduated.

Its all good that we dont all look the same…….we can blend in, girls who would never date a black or white guy always make exceptions for us/

G'M Rod January 2, 2012 at 4:59 PM

Thanks for the story….
Being half Mexican (mom) and half Irish (that man), I too get this sort of nonsense. Are you Brazilian, are you Iranian, are you Egyptian? Grew up with the white name, married into the Mexican name. Oh, how people think differently!
Funniest story: Some homeless black woman was hollering at everyone on the corner when I passed by. She said, “and all of you latinos, or whatever you are.” Ha!

nat August 12, 2012 at 8:26 PM

OMG that is so cool im half mexican(mom) and half Irish(dad) too!! I literally spent half of my childhood between Ireland and Mexico! I grew up with an Irish surname and a spanish/mexican surname in the second degree! But im not planning on changing my name when i get married as i love my name and I think thats sexist(not unless he has a really cool last name!) I get my dark hair from my mom and pale skin from dad and my eyes are a combination of both! People always ask me where im from, even in Mexico! One time when I was waiting for mom to pick me up a guy(Irish) out for a walk said; ‘Italian?’ and i shaked my head in a ‘no’ motion this continued a few times while he continued to guess the country- french, poutuguese, spanish, brazilian, until he gave up and ask me where I was from to whick I ansewered mexican(in the spear of the moment i left out the fact that I was also Irish) This didnt bother me, on the contrary I found it quite funny and liked how he tried to guess why I looked diffrent:) I havent gotten Iranian or Egyptian I tend to be confused with other latin contries:) But no i dont look like a ‘typical mexican’ but neither do my full mexican relatives! And we defenetly dont wear ponchos ans sleep in trees like someone once asked!
PS; sara, while you dont look like aa ‘typical mexican’ I would not be suprised at all if you told me you wear maxican, you dont look any diffrent than the mexicans I know except for the fact that your individual! I know many mexicans with light brown/blond hair and green and blue eyes plus many are white including my family. People who sterotype normally dont tend to know anything outside their own fourwalls.

El Jefe January 4, 2012 at 2:17 PM

Even though I’m Basque I get a lot of, “Basque- what’s that? You’re chicano man”. I don’t mind at all.

LC January 4, 2012 at 2:33 PM

I am not white skinned nor do i have light eyes. I am brown… and in the summer, dark brown! My hair is pitch black and eyes dark brown. I too get that same phrase: “you don’t look Mexican”. This is further followed with “Nah, you can’t be JUST Mexican”. However, I find it actually funny. It’s entertaining to me to hear people try to “figure out” what my ethnic background could be. It’s quite interesting to hear the results and the explanations to such (yep, i do ask). Some answers are plain ignorant, others quite poignant. Fact of the matter is that “Mexicans” are a whole lot of everything (Check the history books). French? Yes. Irish? Yep. Spanish? Ni se diga! C’mon… you are really “bothered” by the guessing game? Embrace it. This diversity within the “Mexican” ethnicity it’s part of our history and our future.

In my experience, those who get bothered by this phrase the most are those who have identity issues to begin with. Those who feel like that are not “really” a part of their fellow Raza Mexicana. Be it because they feel rejected by their own, they don’t know their language/ history/ culture as “they should” or whatever other insecurities are lingering with their sense of belonging to this group, it is that raw spot that gets touched and sends them in this rant about how horrible/ disrespectful/ insensitive/ ignorant posing this question is. Let it go… we all play the guessing game to one degree or another. The beauty in this is that we are able to do so in this very diverse space we now live in… go ahead, guess away!

wassupconan July 27, 2012 at 7:08 AM

thats the problem with la raza. it doesnt really exist cuz in order for it to exist all mexicans have to look around the same and have the same amount of dna in their blood. which cant be done cuz there are pure white, black , asian mexicans still in mexico. plus even those who are mixed dont have the same ratio. so if u cant recognize someone on the street as mexican whats the point of la raza. u would end up being racist towards lighter or white mexican thinking he is american and then he says i am mexican too and then u say oh sry didnt know lol.

@urban_latina January 4, 2012 at 5:49 PM

I have mixed feelings about this post. I think there’s some truth to the idea that people act surprised when I say I’m Mexican because their expectation of “Mexicans” is very different from what they see in me. That’s usually the result of prejudice, ignorance, or both. If I’m in a lecturing mode, I’ll explain that there’s no such thing as a pure “Mexican” because we are really the product of “mestizaje” – the racial and cultural mixing of European conquistadores and the indigenous people (like the Aztecs) who used to live in what is now known as Mexico. Mexico as a country – and thus, Mexicans – only came to exist after the Spaniards conquered our land.

To me, the real issue is the prevailing notion among many white people and middle- to upper-class Mexicans alike that some of us are somehow better than others because of the way we look and our socioeconomic status. Mexico, as a society, discriminates its own based on those two things. We are classists to the bone. And that’s the irony of it all: if a fair-skinned, educated Mexican is told by people of other nationalities “You don’t look Mexican,” it just goes to prove what a good job we’ve done, as Mexicans, putting labels on our own.

I’ve had cab drivers in L.A. talk to me in Russian; Germans ask if I’m from Spain; and many others who have tried to dig into my family history to uncover a distant European relative to explain the way I look. But perhaps the most revealing comment came from a young Mayan waiter in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, who complemented me on my “Spanish being very good for an American girl.”

@urban_latina – a Mexican living in L.A.

Aurora Sarabia April 25, 2012 at 10:12 AM

As a Chicana, I am indigenous to the Americas. My family is from the Huichol, Otomi and Raramuri nations to name a few tribes that make up my cultural and genetic lineage. I too have been asked if I am of other ethnicities and nationalities: Japanese, Chinese, Pinay (filipina), Tahitian, Hawaiian, etc… I found your post to be extremely eurocentric as the indigenous people of Mexico (mixed or not) still exist. Our lands were stolen by Spaniards and other Europeans. But we are still exist. Unfortunately too many academics subscribe to the racist idea pushed by Octavio Paz that we are a new race of people. We should take pride in the fact that our Native culture still exists. Think of my words everytime you chomp down on a tamale or eat chili or chocolate – some of the many foods our people have given to the world.

wassupconan July 27, 2012 at 7:16 AM

i dont think she said anything thats not true. she was talking about the fact mexicans are putting labels on themsleves even tho they know they come in all colors. and what eurocentric ideas are u talking about rly. u have a spanish name u probably speak spanish and theres a good chance ure a catholic. all of those things came from europe and that pretty much makes 90% of what each country is. language, names and religion. culture is also adopted from spaniards (hence the name latin-southern european). if u wanna keep ure indigenous roots why dont u change back ure name start spaking nahuatl or whatever and revert to paganism. plus spaniards didnt actually stole anything cuz native americans didnt own the land they lived in sync with nature, that was their ideology. they didnt have a sense of continents countries or possessing the land. so its about time u choose whether u wanna whine about old times or start building ure culture from scratch.

nat August 12, 2012 at 9:19 PM

I have to agree with you, even if i have a very small amount of indigenous blood if any( i probrably do have some somewhere along the centuries!) Im glad to hear there are still some pure indigenous. But I do find it sad that your coulture to some extent has been lost. Same as mine (im part celtic ie. Irish) I ve always wonder if people(euoropeans) hadnt conquered what the world would be like? What typ diffrent inventions would excists? The simple fact is most of our technolpgy and advancements are western orientated. The aztecs, as were other coultures, were heading a diffrent way, they had other inventions and(more correct) calendars. My ancestors the Celts followed the brehon laws, which the anglos(english) looked down on as they tought they were uncivilised. Ironaclly these ‘unciilised’ laws are more similar to the societty we live in today! Back in the day, women actually had rights and so did children born outside the marriage! A woman could keep her maiden name and any property she inherited. She could also be voted queen(yes the celts voted for their leader, but they had to belong to the ‘royal family’) if she was queen material ie. she had to be able to fight and lead her people into battle! Women could also divorce her husband and there is no indication that a bride had to be a virgin when she married. In short I do wonder what the world would be like with all these diverse coultures that were lost:(
The Celtic Queen Medb (Maeve) of the Province of Connaught was the most famous queen of ancient Ireland. She was a warrior queen living in approximately the 1st century B.C.

nat August 12, 2012 at 8:39 PM

“Spanish being very good for an American girl.” haha thats so funny! Such a lovely way to put it! Only I think part of our steroetype comes from the image we are given by the reast of the world mainly in USA movies. Most of the people I know in Ireland all they know about mexico they know through hollywood movies!

mayangrl January 5, 2012 at 5:19 PM

I got the same thing growing up, people never thought I was Mexican, and I would get upset. I think LC is correct, because for me, I wanted to be identified as Mexican, since that’s how I felt (in spit of my mediocre Spanish). My bio father was white, and I had a Welsh last name, which didn’t help my situation any, so I changed it when I graduated from college and took my grandparents’ name. These days I don’t care what people think I am.

@Urban Latina My ex hubby is from Yucatán, and we were in Playa del Carmen, driving to Tulum, when some Mexican kids yelled “Gringos!” at us. My ex yelled “Gringa tu madre!” right back at them. Then he threw in a “pel a ná” for emphasis (Mayan for “your mother’s private parts”). Hehe

@urban_latina January 9, 2012 at 10:36 AM

I love the “Gringa tu madre” reply. I’ll have to remember that one! =)

wassupconan July 27, 2012 at 7:21 AM

just a quick note. u cant say my mom is mexican and my dad is white for example cuz there are mexicans that are racially white. so u can say my mom is mexican and my dad is irish , or say my mom is mestiza and my dad white for example. dont mix nationality/ethnicity with color of your skin/race. its like saying hes half black half muslim doesnt make any sense. just trying to make a point that mexican is not a race unlike american mass media is trying to teach you. plus gringo doesnt rly mean white like mexican-americans think it means foreigner and it applies to US ppl regardless of their skin tone. if they heard u talking in english they probably thought u were american. mexicans from mexico tend to see foreigners as strangers rather than different races.

chiconkey October 17, 2012 at 12:32 AM

ixtsana pelana ba hush portu molo

A_Hdz January 6, 2012 at 2:04 PM

I have always said everyone will eventually be Latino because of this exactly. Everyone can pass off for a Latino as we look like everything. I remember visiting Mexico as a child and being called Gringa. I am brown skinned, black hair, and dark brown eyes. I remember getting so mad as I have always been very proud of being Mexican. I remember my mother explaining to me it was because they could tell I was American.

Growing up I was always asked if I was Philipino, mixed with black (I think because of my mannerisms and the way I sometimes spoke as I grew up in an all black neighborhood), Indian, and sometimes Thai. I would always initially answer I am American, and of course I would make them ask me several questions to finally answer, “I am Mexican.” I think it is interesting I still get comments like, “You speak english very well. No accent. ” Uhm…thank you. Then I remembered that line in the “Selena” movie, “not Mexican enough for Mexicans, and not American enough for Americans, We have to work twice as hard as everyone to prove we belong.”

I agree with everyone though. Its get annoying when people think I should be something else. I always feel disappointment from them when I say I am Mexican. As if I should be with child, or have multiple baby-daddies, or not have a college education, and since I don’t and do it just doesnt make sense to them. I do also agree some of it might have stemmed from my own personal identity. As a child I constantly fought against the stereotypes, but now as an adult I think its awesome people cant figure out what I am…well until they find out my last name. Hernandez.

wassupconan July 27, 2012 at 7:27 AM

Latino is only a culture that came from Europe via spaniards (hence the term Latin in Latin America) otherwise there would be no Latin America just southern land mass with different name. same as Anglo is the term that no one uses in US but it depicts the significance of english culture in the US. ofc anyone can be culturally what they want. its not restricted to white,beige,tan,brown or black ppl. it is sad however that u have to prove ure something even tho ppl dont believe you. does being american have a certain look ?? then why should mexican be any different. mexico was a land of immigrants too, except they didnt kill as much indians as Americans did. and they mixed with them a lot. so ofc theyre gonna come in all shapes and colors.

Sara January 7, 2012 at 12:15 PM

I get this all the time as well, being half Mexican half white. I even had a friend tell me, after seeing a picture of my dad, that he wasn’t really believing that I even was Mexican until that moment. Mexicans come in so many colors, shapes, sizes, I don’t get why everyone seems to think that unless you’re dark brown and wearing a sombrero, you’re just not Mexican enough!

wassupconan July 27, 2012 at 7:29 AM

again u cant be half mexican half white, cuz mexican is not a race but only nationality/ethnicty. if ure mom was mexican for example she could racially be white cuz theres quite a few white mexicans out there. if she was slightly tanned then shes a mestiza. so ure half mestiza half white, or u could say half mexican and half whatever that white part was example scottish.

nat August 12, 2012 at 9:33 PM

wassupconan I so agree with you, i find it really enoying how ‘blacks’ are african-american and’whites are just americans as oposed to anglo-americans or celtis-americans etc..

kw January 7, 2012 at 5:14 PM

“Mexican” is a nationality, not a “race”. In the same way that “American” is a nationality, not a “race”. Any person that looks any way (that is of any “race” or “races”, in other words) could be either “Mexican” or “American”. Put another way, any human being on the entire planet (no matter what they look like or what language they speak for that matter) could potentially be either “Mexican” or “American”. This makes the question “What does a Mexican look like?” the same exact question as “What does an American look like?” The answer for both questions should be: “They look like human beings”. Obviously the Americas includes fully racialized societies that many, many people buy into; hence all the above responses and the original article itself.

Carolinagirl January 8, 2012 at 12:16 PM

I get that a lot too. I’m 100% Cuban (Cuban-born, raised in US), and am very light-skinned and have green eyes. Most of my ancestors are from Spain. My response to “you don’t look Hispanid is usually, “we come in all colors, shapes and sizes” and laugh it off. Who cares? I am, above all, a human being and that’s all that matters.

CHOCHO January 9, 2012 at 8:45 AM

My standard response to these types of comments is, “Funny, you don’t look like a moron.”

Comic Saenz January 8, 2012 at 12:49 PM

Our friend Gustavo Arellano, the ¡Ask A Mexican! guy, wrote a 2009 column that hit on both the “looking Mexican” and “who is a pocho” memes.

jose francisco January 8, 2012 at 10:31 PM

Thank you so much for writing this it happens to me all the time. When I had my hair long and because of my facial hair a lot of people would ask me if I was Cuban and now that I shaved my hair I get a lot of European countries =_= >.<

Its even funnier? worse, when its other Mexicans who think I'm not Mexican.

@mexicanwoman January 9, 2012 at 8:22 AM

In the picture that’s posted, if that’s you, you look like Kate Del Castillo, who is totally Mexican. Saludos, hermana.

Sara Inés Calderón January 10, 2012 at 6:08 PM

thx girl!

Jessica Lopez January 25, 2012 at 4:29 PM

Hallelujah! Thanks so much for writing this!

I’m not only the palest person I know, but the palest person in my family-which of course, being Mexican, has seven kids;) My favorite is when people don’t just tell me, “You don’t look Mexican,” but, “You’re NOT Mexican.” I usually just reply, “Really?”

Iris Guzmán February 28, 2012 at 2:54 PM

Hi, Sara, thanks for this blog. I live in Seattle where apparently they’ve never heard of light skinned Mexicans. People always ask me if I’m mixed, assumming that I’m half white and something else, but only because of my name and not my look. It always makes me feel so uncomfortable having to explain away other people’s ignorance. I remind them how México was colonized by the Spanish, how African slaves made their way there, and how Germans and Jews along with a whole bunch of other Europeans and some Asians fled to México for safety during times of war, famine, etc. So, at the end of thed ay we are a rainbow of people. I always feel somewhat insulted when people say I don’t look Mexican, because my heart is brown and so I assume the rest of me is, too.

Also, just to mess further with people in Seattle, I say my name as ‘ee-rees’ and not ‘eye-res.’ Oh, it throws them for such a loop! I love it. Brown pride always and forever! Lasty, did I mention I grew up in East Los where my sister, mom and I were all called guera? Lol. Fun times.

Newsy March 25, 2012 at 4:29 AM

Hey Iris .. C’mon ..we all have our crosses to bear. the main thing is what are we all doing every day to help the world. I’m not light skinned .. in a family of seven kids we are very light to dark and I am the darkest and I went to a school with a lot of white kids and they were cruel and very racist.. it was never fun for a little girl to be called vulgar racist names. But, it made me more of a compassionate adult and I’m pretty damned strong and can handle anyone and any environment with confidence and I know you can too.
I’m much older than you .. and my work has taken me to many places in the world and in the fanciest of hotels. While staying in nice hotels, I’ve been asked by hotel guests to get them more towels, fix their stuffed toilet and have been asked by hotel staff behind the reception desk if I was a guest there. I’ve been followed in expensive department stores. My white colleagues are never treated this way. If I’m dressed down, to others, I may look like a newly arrived immigrant, and as a result, I experience how they are unfairly treated every day. Once I open my articulate mouth, the eyes widen, because others assume that I’m a monolingual Spanish speaker.
What you’ve experienced is a little irritating .. but big deal .. you’re a smart beautiful young woman with a lot to offer and what you do with your life is what counts. They don’t come much lighter than Dr. Rudy Acuna and he’s considered the grandfather of Chicano Studies.. look up Tomas Jimenez, a young sociologist concentrating on immigration issues.. see what he looks like or Dr. Mary Pardo. There are too many just like you to list here. If you really want to “represent”, in the end, it’s really not about what you look like, or comments people make, it’s all about what you’ve done. This week there are marches for justice in cities across the country for Cesar Chavez.. and to honor him .. people are providing service .. just hang with like minded people who care about the same things you care about, have a great time doing great things with good people and all the petty stuff will fall away.

LC Moreno March 25, 2012 at 9:40 PM

Great testamonials to our diversity. I am so damn fortunate to have been born a Mexican-American from Goliad, Texas. I also have stories, but not much time tonight. Stay strong, Gente! Adelante.

Laura March 25, 2012 at 10:29 PM

I’m Irish on my dad’s side and Mexican on my mom’s. I was raised to be proud of both… but growing up in L.A. you eventually realize that you speak Spanish, not Irish, you’ve been to see your relatives in Mexico, not Ireland, and you have a whole lot of Mexican friends… but no Irish ones. Guess what I’m Mexican! Even though I for some reason have a German last name! (Even my dad, who was born and raised in L.A., is probably more Mexican than Irish at this point. )

Don’t tell me I’m Spanish. Don’t tell me I’m white. I’m Mexican, I’ve never known what it’s like NOT to be Mexican.

However, when I complain that there are not enough Mexicans on TV…. don’t point to me and say: but Mexicans can look like you!!! Um, no…. I know what I look like, and I know what 90% of Mexicans look like. We need more of the 90% of Mexicans on TV and in movies.

nat August 12, 2012 at 9:56 PM

Laura-You should try and go to Ireland in the future, its a beautiful country! but yes because of colonisation most Irish, like me, speak english not Irish:( but i do want to learn in the future and i know bits and bobs:) im also half mexican:) Slán!!

Bruce Koborg March 26, 2012 at 2:58 AM

Sara, Your column definitely touched a nerve. It’s funny how that phrase can stir up so much history, race, and identity issues. Having gone back and forth across the border to visit family, it definitely cuts both ways. I’m am too pocho and too guero for Mexico and too non-Anglo for the midwest. Having a Danish surname, at times, can give me cover to hear things that wouldn’t be said in front of a ‘Mexican’. Oh, the things I have heard, whilst under cover as an indeterminate nationality. It was tough growing up, and it’s getting, incrementally, better now. But, there’s still a long way to go. I’m glad somebody posted this to facebook, as the column and the comments remind me that I’m not alone. Muchas gracias, Sara.

Azul March 26, 2012 at 8:03 AM

I think this is the experience for many Mexicans- myself included. While I lived in the States I used to get it quite a lot.
During my teenage years I’d sometimes reply with “Is your name Ashley?” and when the answer was no I’d say “Woa, and you’re American?! Weird!” . At the same time, it’s Mexicans like you and everyone who’s replied to this post so far that are changing people’s mentality. I mean, someone has to debunk the myth that we all sound like Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite.

Julian March 26, 2012 at 9:05 AM

Great article, I gotta say this was a short but sweet missive about your experiences with something that I too have gone through. Where I’m from (Fresno, CA), Mexicans are 99% of the Latin population so it wasn’t any question to my peers growing up…however, when I moved to LA for college, people didn’t think that [Mexicans] can get 6’2″ tall. People thought I was half African-American or Puerto Rican when I moved to LA (and like you, I wasn’t so much offended to be confused for these other nationalities, moreso confused as to how narrow some people’s perception of another nationality can be. When I vacationed to NYC in 2007, nobody thought I was Mexican too for the fact that I was tall. Someone told me [oh, our Mexicans are short here and dark with round faces.] I wanted to be offended at that, but I took the extra second to said to the person Latinos are every color of god’s brown rainbow, we can be blond-hair/blue-eyed, we can be Asian (and I explained how Mexico has a big Chinese population), brown like me, or look like Carlton from The Fresh Prince who was also Latino!

Luis Ituarte March 26, 2012 at 9:06 AM

Are you good looking? Or not, are you tall? Or not, are you well educated? Or not, are you a good person? Or not, are you Mexican? Or not, are you Indian? Or not, are you black? Or not, are you white? Or not, IS THIS PART OF OUR NATURE? OR NOT, Can we just see it like plain curiosity? I guess sometimes in the US we do not have that choice.

Elizabeth March 26, 2012 at 9:52 AM

One of my friend is blonde with green eyes (some Eastern European heritage). She considers herself 100% Mexican as her family has been in Mexico for generations and she is very proud of it. But one of our common friends refers to her as the “fake Mexican”. Asked why she calls her that, the answer is: she does not look Mexican.
That is also the same person who always comes back at my hubby, when he teases her, with a “shut up, Mexican” as if it were some kind of insult and put down. She is a very dear friend, but I do feel the urge to strangle her in these instances.

Monica Tienda March 26, 2012 at 5:42 PM

As a light-skinned 6’2″ brunette, I have always made people guess. They’ve ranged from Greek to Swedish to Japanese. C’mon–is it really that incredible to believe we Mexicans can be tall and fair?

VH April 23, 2012 at 11:27 PM

After stumbling through the article by chance. It was definitely a good read. I must say the comments really give insight of everyones thought process and it obviously comes from whatever bits and pieces we have all individually grown up and gathered. By this I mean depending on how you grew up, and still growing in some cases because I myself am 25, really gives people a different perspective.

In my case I’m 6 ‘3 my skin varies depending on how much sun I have been hit by, I live In LA just thought I would mention that, and I can pass from italian, brazilian, spanish, armenian, puerto rican etc. Its a bit funny because in Mexico, I visit every year in the state of Nayarit, Compostela, they know I am mexican and it gives me national pride of some sort deep to the bone, maybe it is just me who gets this feeling. When I studied abroad in spain, I was in the hospital, I broke my wrist playing soccer..long story, and i was in the ambulance ride.. there I was asked if I was puerto rican, brazilian, and finally of some other south american country. When I finally told them I was mexican they had a surprised look in their face…whereupon I asked have you ever been to mexico? they replied no.. and thats when i said thatthats why you have that puzzled look in your face (haha). We had a good laugh, and yes I have a great sense of humor even with a broken wrist. Even at the hospital we went through the whole charade once and again and it yielded the same result…the doctors there have never been to mexico..

This in all, getting questioned what ethnicity I am honestly a quite long game I have been playing with everyone in the word, except certain people, and it stopped offending me a long time ago. I am in law school now and I get it more than ever..I think being asked this so much is why I like corridos and spanish music so much, yea in general I like the music but i think, in theory, it phychologicallly pushed me to listen to it and subconsciously to listen to this type of music more to not “confuse” anyone about my ethnicity….I wonder if that just made sense to me..

All in all Mexican come in all different colors, and the women too which are soo beautiful, dark skinned, light skinned blonde, brunette. and honestly we are a pretty sexy ethnicity..has anyone been to guadalajara, mazatlan, morelia, or veracruz.. I honestly had my jaw dropped seeing so many beautiful women…

And yes my grammer and my spelling was probably terrible in the ramble of mine..but cut me a break..I have been studying like crazy and do not want to proof read something that is not being submitted professionally, getting paid for, or getting a grade for..


Cristina May 9, 2012 at 10:07 AM

Hi Sara. Great post, and it’s interesting to read all the feedback. Count me in as one of those who have heard the “you don’t look Mexican” line. Even at the supermarket in LA with my grandmother, who is very fair skinned, they ask us “where are you from?” and when we respond that we’re from Mexico, they say “I would’ve never guessed. You look Persian and your grandmother looks French…” (Whatever that means!) But I agree with @urban_latina, los mexicanos somos igual, Mexicans are always labeling and categorizing each other as well. Every time I go back they always say I’m a pocha and “Ya ya te hiciste gringa o que?” and they don’t mean it nicely. When I lived in DF people would call me a “guera” o “norteña” and even say things like ‘A ti te va bien porque eres blanquita.” Imagine that! So I see discrimination both here in the US and Mexico and we all have to work at not doing it. But that’s easier said than done. Saludos. Cristina

Diana May 9, 2012 at 11:15 AM

In the past two weeks my family has experienced a bit of racism at the hands of our own ‘gente’. We’ve been told that we look Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan, etc. It’s the Yaki and Spanish blood mix, I guess. One of my brothers was at a taqueria getting some food when the gals preparing the food started talking in Spanish about my brother right in front of him because they thought he was a ‘Chinito’. My brother was so insulted that he told them in Spanish “Yo no soy Chino y se pueden artar con ese taco!” They were both left slack jawed & red in the face! A week later another brother was given a hard time at the local mercado by the cashier and a customer because they thought he was Asian. They made some racist remarks about him and he replied to them in Spanish (with some choice expletives). Once again they were left slack jawed and embarrassed. So, let’s start looking at our own issues regarding racism, because they are really nasty.

Rudolph Andrade May 9, 2012 at 11:47 AM

When I was going through Marine Corps. Tank School at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, one of the guys from back east and his fiance and her girlfriend were tripping out on me, they told me you dont sound hispanic, but at the same time i do, i think what they meant was i didnt have a hard latin accent, but that i have a mexican american accent, and asked where i was from, i told them i was born in los angeles, then they asked where my parents are from? i said they are from here, in fact im 5th and 6th generation, my roots traced back to when california was mexico, so they asked are you mexican, i said im mexicn-american and then one of the girls said are you sure, she said “you look like a Puerto Rican”, i said last time i checked i was

Ana Tristan May 9, 2012 at 12:24 PM

Im 5.8″, blanca, grandota, black hair, I belly dance, not the typical mexicana? according to everyone I have come into contact with, no. The same people freak out when they find out Im their medical interpreter, interpreter for their court hearing, amazed when Im interpreting and my pronunciation and grammar of my native tongue is better than theirs. I always feel I have to explain, I was born in Brownsville, spent some years in Matamoros, I had to learn ingles when I started el kinder. Im used to it, but amazed at the stereotypes I surrounded by, ignorance? Yes, I always think it, how can an educated person just assume my freckles dont make me the typical mexicana? Am I stereotyping them for them stereotyping me? whooo cares, the important thing is that I know my culture, time to educate the willing, helping the stereotyping to stop. I love my culture, my history, spread the love.

Gris May 11, 2012 at 12:38 AM

When we speak of educated people, and if we claim to include ourselves, we have to allow for curiosity and dialogue to be part of the encounter. Yes, there is prejudice, assumption and ignorance in some questions, but if we aren’t willing to have the conversation then we are as much part of the problem as those who ask the annoying questions. Defining Mexican is as complicated as Jose Antonio Vargas has shown defining American to be. Colonization, immigration and inter-racial good ol’fashion loving has individuals the world over struggling to come to terms with their own identity; expecting others to know your identity when they first lay eyes on you is a bit demanding. I am Mexican, a Mexicana, Latina, Chicana, Mexican-American, USAnian, Mexica, Mejicana…and I offer up a different label at different times; I offer a label that is appropriate to my audience while remaining true to me and my heart. I often get confused for a Middle Eastern woman, but frequently get Greek, Persian and whatever else the person offering a suggestion has had exposure to. I cannot be aware of everyone’s background and what they’re scope of knowledge is (by this I mean human interaction, not book knowledge), but chances are that the more traveled and experienced a person is then the more curious and open to simply asking they might be.

On another note, to ask someone so outright with no context for this line of questioning is rude. Now we are talking about manners and societal norms. I understand the value of racial profiling, but the article was written about the constant barrage of questioning and the frustration it brought on. Why not ask why someone would ask the question? Why not ask why they feel the freedom to ask? Why not have a conversation about it? We pick and choose our battles so I understand becoming an educator on a daily basis would be annoying (especially since you aren’t getting paid), but to never ask?? I’m reminded of MLK’s quote “Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.”

I’m glad to have found this conversation…thank you for it 🙂

Juanita la guera May 12, 2012 at 11:20 AM

It cuts both ways. I have light brown hair and green eyes and am Greek-American. However, I speak fluent Spanish and have lived with one foot in the latino world for more than 40 years. Still, when I start speaking Spanish to a latino (from whatever country), often their jaw drops, they stare at me in amazement, and don’t hear a word I say. They just don’t comprehend how somebody who looks like me can talk like them. Whatever….in a couple of generations, everybody will be of mixed ethnicity.

Jose May 22, 2012 at 7:16 PM

Mexican are a mix not only white Spanish there native American as well as African peopl always ask me if am black mix nope I’m Mexican

Michelle June 9, 2012 at 8:48 AM

When I tell people I’m latina, they usually give me weird looks too and say I don’t look like one(Or shes a wanna be).. i didn’t know latinas were suppose to look a certian way. From my knowlwdge latin americans have a variety of races and people who are mixed with many different races in their bloodline. I’m Panamanian american, I’m very americanized. I don’t hang out with the black kids in school, because just simply i have nothing in common with them AT ALL(except the way I look, and my african ancestry). I’m a mulatta. The only people I don’t get ignorant comments out of are the people who ACTUALLY lived in latin american and actually know that latin americans don’t have a specific look to them. For americanized latin americans who know little to nothing at all about where they come, and I tell them that I’m panamanian, they say “you don’t look panamanian” or something stupid like “nuh uh! you cant be panamanian.. I had a girlfriend before who was panamanian”(I got that from a mexican boy) I took offense to that because first of all, I’m not your girlfriend, so it doesn’t matter how she looked, we are two different people, and if I say I’m what I am, then don’t tell me i’m not because last time I check, I know more about my culture and people than you do(and this guy didn’t even know much about mexican culture, so how is he gonna try and tell me about MINES. he was confused even about himself and thats sad).

Monarrez September 6, 2012 at 3:08 PM

I did a paper on this topic. I live in California and yes their are many ethnicities here so maybe the original questions is valid. But when people tell you that you could pass for Italian or Spanish, and think that they are paying you a compliment. They are not, they are making themselves look ignorant. What they are actually saying is that they are prejudice of Mexican people. They assume that all mexicans look a certain way- thats where the offense comes in. We do have the right to be a little offended. Someone said it best. Travel to Mexico and you will see that we are the norm not the exception. The majority of Mexican are Mestizo not indegenous. Just for the record. Lived in the Middle East for a year and the most racist people that I encountered were not white, they were from Columbia and Venenzuela. They couldn’t believe that a Mexican wasn’t a dog. I take offense to that, that same year, Ms Mexico was crowned Miss Universe! Their jaws dropped

Lorena September 13, 2012 at 9:46 PM

I get the same reaction. I have pale skin and hazel eyes that turn green. People always think that i’m central or south american, european, or somewhere from the carribean. when i tell people that i’m mxican their like no your not, ur too light to be mexican. i remember that some guy even made me say that i was colombian because he didn’t believe me when i told him that i was mexican. both of my parents are from jalisco. and it’s also funny to look at people’s faces when they see me speak in spanish. people have told me what you speak spanish, i thought u were white lol…

javon October 11, 2012 at 5:11 AM

I think this a fake

redd 09 October 11, 2012 at 5:16 AM

she iz mexican

tyjae October 11, 2012 at 5:17 AM

she is mexican she just doesnt look like it

kb October 11, 2012 at 6:15 AM

all yall need to shutup!!
javon,tyjae, and redd 09

liyah October 11, 2012 at 6:19 AM

yea she probably is a mexican but just dont look like it because there are different mexicans that dont look alike.

terri November 7, 2012 at 9:26 AM

Thank you! “I never ask.” Why are people so nosy? Do people see the parallel? I’m not asking them questions. I’m not looking at them. I don’t want them asking me questions or looking at me. I think them trying to “figure out the deal” means usually putting you into a box and figuring out your “status” compared to theirs. It’s like – mind your own business you insecure piece of xxxx.

Rotell November 8, 2012 at 3:05 PM

It’s really amazing how media & entertainment can brainwash people into seeing things a certain way. Most people especially Americans think Latin countries as being as homogenious as Asian countries. Like if you don’t “look” Japanese then you are an outsider which is not really the case for Latin American. Often I hear others point out a white Mexicans European backgound first even though they could possibly be 7th generation Mexican. The whiter ones are French etc first and Mexican secondly while the darker ones are 100 % Mexican. It would be similar to saying a white American is (whatever their European ancestery is) first over American and I am sure they would agree that they are first and foremost American. Mexican is a nationality and not a race just like a blacks or Asians can be Canadian just as much as the ones of European background.

Beeboo November 25, 2012 at 11:41 AM

I get Columbian and Argentinian all the time. I’m like nah, I’m a Scandinavian Jew.

borderfreak November 27, 2012 at 4:10 AM

I’ve gotten tired of trying to explain my background to the curious. I just settled for putting in a cd of “Los Tucanes” or “Vicente Fernandez”. I tell them to figure it out. Thanks for the article.

Me November 28, 2012 at 3:23 PM

i hate that!!
my parents are japanese, but i was born in Mexico
and americans tell to me “you dont look mexican”, c’mon guys, not all mexicans are brown, there live a lot of caucasians, blondes and ‘asians’

John January 8, 2013 at 11:50 AM

Wow there are some seriously pretentous people here. How dare you to say I am not a Mexican because I am so so white! To be honest I thought all the people in Mexico were white. Thats all you see on mexican channels. If you are offended by me saying that then you are truly blind.

REBECA ANA OLVERA January 26, 2013 at 8:11 PM

My mother is 1/4 danish and the rest is english scottish welsh with a tiny smidge of irish. My father is mexican (meztizo) from tula, tamaulipas, mexico. Some people think I’m “mexican” but if i am seen with my mother theyre like oh shes white .. I get mistaken for being arab, italian, jewish , romanian, “white” , cherokee spanish oh and once one of my new friends at school told me ” i didnt want u to hear them cause i thougt u might get offended cause youre jewish” and i was like ” i am not jewish..” And in class i was listening to music and i guess my music was loud and the ppl in there had been saying whos music is that?? And i turned my headphones down and they said ohh thats that cuban girl and like 2 or 3 ppl had said that.. And once i was giving a report and 7 ppl or so out of nowhere asked me if i was jewish my teacher sat back amused as i said no i am not jewish .. I have been mistaken for russian too.. They try to make you into something they want u to be .. A lot of ppl hesitantly ask ur hispanic right like my bro s mexican friend asked me .. And i was on the bus and some guatemalan boys asked me a question and i said no se and one was like woah you chicana? And one of my bro s other mexican friend said yeah her dad s from the same place my mom is.. I get a lot of looks from hispanic girls at school as if i dont fit in but i think it might be cause im not ugly.. Or my spanish is kinda broken at times .. I think you arent latino or hispanic if you dont speak spanig 100% or wear tight clothes or have certain features but im proud how i look and im not worried about speaking spanish 100 percent cause im not really expected too.. I want to though i can pronounce perfectly because my parents have always spoken it around us and due to goin to mexican parties when i was younger i seemed to fit in more i guess cause i was darker then ..and i basically hung around only hispanics.. But now tht i hang out with polish german or half mexican half european friends i am less hispanic even tho my heart is brown.. My bro looks a little more mexican than me and hangs out with total mexicans but doesnt speak much spanish but can understand like me and they ask him (the guys do) ” why doesnt ur sister sit with us (the hispanic table) or hang out and talk to us?” And i guess i just automatically feel judged in front of them esp the girls and in my music class my salvadoian friend said what are u doing w us n this group cause it was full of a girl who was half mexican a quarter guatemalan and a quarter white and a mexican girl and a honduran girl and him and me the half mex half uk/danish girl and my friend who was white and he goes “sydney the only white girl here ohh and u r too why r u doing here u are white” and it stung.. Cause im as hispanic as the next bitch living he culture iguess im in the same boat as christina aguilera

crg February 10, 2013 at 8:33 PM

Ethnicity and Race are not the same things guy. Ethnicity is culture, Race is genetics.

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