I’m Latina. I’m Uruguayan by both blood and paperwork through birthright and dual nationality. No one ever believes me–it’s infuriating. I’m constantly being told that I’m not the ethnicity I say I am. It is not up to someone else to choose the words that they deem fit to describe me. Whatever I say I am, I am.
It’s narrow-minded when someone assumes that they’re the expert on what a Latino does or does not look like. There are blonde Latinos. There are blue-eyed Latinos. But this is not me–I look like most Uruguayans. I have the same olive complexion that tans darkly in the sun and dark brown eyes. My appearance is indicative of my Charrua roots. I have slick brown straight hair, high cheekbones, and minimal body hair; these are all traits that can be traced to my indigenous blood. My sister has lighter skin, eyes, and hair.
When someone doubts my ethnicity it’s incredibly hurtful. I’m made to feel self-conscious about whether or not I should refer to myself as Latina. I’m so incredibly proud of my roots. When someone questions my background they’re disrespecting my father’s plight to the U.S. when he fled Uruguay during the military dictatorship, my grandparents’ efforts to sustain their family after their cattle died of mad cow disease, and my ancestor who was the Uruguayan General who defeated the Portuguese army when they invaded Uruguay after conquering Brazil.
This issue is not exclusive to the U.S. In Uruguay, abuelas assumed my mother was my nanny because of her light hair and light eyes. When I lived in Los Angeles, New York City, and Madrid, Spain the majority of the people who questioned my authenticity as a Latina were Latino themselves.
Through traveling to over 50 countries I’ve encountered many people who are doubtful about my background. Spaniards are skeptical to believe that I have Uruguayan roots as I’m not completely fluent in Spanish. Just like my looks, my linguistics do not define my ethnicity. Let’s all remember that nationality, ethnicity, and citizenship do not all have to be from the same country.
Traveling the world has made me much more conscious of my ethnicity. In India, where I’m currently traveling, I have to defend my roots daily. Locals refer to me as the widely disliked group of foreigners, which they call white people. I don’t identify as being white. When I tell Indian people that Latino is also referred to as brown they refuse to accept it. They tell me my skin is too light to be categorized as brown, even though my skin is a deep tan shade after weeks in the strong Indian sun. More often than not my complexion is browner than theirs.
I love my dark straight hair, my deep brown eyes, and skin that tans like caramel in the sun. My olive complexion has made it very easy for me to blend in when I’m traveling. I’m constantly mistaken for a local and spoken to in the native dialect of most countries I’ve visited. This has happened everywhere from India to Greece to Albania. I’m always proud to tell them that I’m Uruguayan-American.
I’m Latina, and I want everyone to know it. Celeste soy yo!