This piece is featured in Issue No. 2 Fake News

personal essay

They Often Do

I’ll be honest - I’m not very good at writing about myself. I’m much more analytic than introspective. I can write fifty-page essays on issues I’m passionate about, but I’ve come to realize that’s mostly because I’m afraid of talking about myself. I’m afraid of saying “I,” because saying “I” makes me sad. It makes me mourn. It’s a lot easier to say “women,” “queer women,” or “first-generation Americans” because then I can distance myself - be angry, objective, and even self-righteous. Moreover, I’m so used to people questioning my experience that I default to statistics as if my own voice adds no value. 

Last year, I went through something that I’ve laughed off until this point, but now I can’t seem to shake it. And every time it comes up, I get so angry I could almost cry. I had just finished my master’s degree abroad, and I decided to move to New York City to live with a friend I knew from high school… 

Wait - I feel the need to rewind, to explain my identity to you. My name is Sabrina, and I often joke that I am the whitest Latina you will ever meet. This is a defense mechanism, and I know this because when I say it I am not laughing.

I am a white-passing woman in a heterosexual relationship with a man and this comes with privilege that I probably don’t even fully grasp, although I’m trying to. But I also want to own that being mixed (Mexican-American) and queer (bisexual) can be a very lonely place and that it is exhausting having to constantly define, defend, and reclaim my identity. 

My friend Karen* is a tall, white, blonde woman from a wealthy family who, to her credit, is doing exceptionally well for herself. She is also racist. And the way she gaslighted me when we lived together was honestly impressive. 

When I was cleaning her friend’s kitchen after making them dinner, I was “the most useful Mexican they ever had in there.” When I was debating immigration policy or refuting her insistent demands to “build a wall,” I wasn’t a “real Mexican” or informed enough on the issue to have an opinion. 

There are so many things that are wrong here, but I’ll try to break them down piece by piece: 

  1. When someone says “You’re not a real Mexican,” what they really mean is: “You do not conform to my racist stereotype of a Mexican.”

  2. Why do white people think they have the right to decide other people’s races and ethnicities for them (another legacy of colonialism)? 

  3. Can someone please explain to me why a white girl from Maryland who works in real estate is telling me that she is more informed on immigration policy than a first-generation American Latina with a master’s degree in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies? 

And then it dawned on me. That’s how this works. It doesn’t matter how qualified I am…

It fascinates me the way conservative America manipulates and weaponizes mixed and queer identities. I’m not Mexican enough to have an opinion on immigrant detention, but just Mexican enough to be the butt of every immigrant joke. Just like I’m not “really bi”, but I’m a “unicorn” when you’re itching for a threesome. Which is it? 

Fast forward to Christmas and I’m at home with my uncle, Miguel. He is yelling at me - calling me a dirty Mexican - because he loves me and he wants me to learn that I do not need to defend my identity to the likes of people like Karen. Shortly after New Year’s, I move out. 

Karen once said, “I wish for all our sakes that Sabrina, and people like her, would try to understand centrist viewpoints more and reach out to those in the center and even across the aisle, because that is the only meaningful way to create real, meaningful political change that will make lives better for minority communities, and by uplifting them, all of America.” 

Thank you for your concerns, Karen, but I disagree. How can there be meaningful change in America without acknowledging white supremacy? When the mere implication that wanting to build a wall might be racist offends you? When your uninformed white perspective takes precedence over my graduate education and lived experience? When you feel more comfortable telling minorities how to “uplift” themselves than actually listening to their needs (or, god forbid, acknowledging your complicity)? Better yet, how can we have these conversations when you don’t think we have the right to be here in the first place? When our very existence in America is up for debate?

Since May, protests against police brutality have swept the country, demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake, and many others. Selective, insincere and self-serving allyship is actively harmful, and yet Karen, and people like her, are posting black squares and #blacklivesmatter on Instagram. They often do. 

*Not her real name but *cough* you get it. 

Luna Moreno

Luna is a queer Mexican-American woman who works in the non-profit sector. She spends her free time confused about her identity and sending queer memes to her best friends because she knows her straight/cis boyfriend will not appreciate them.