¿De dónde eres?
This is a question I am asked fairly often while walking around Madrid. And my immediate response has been to say that I am from the United States, however that seems to not be a “satisfying” response for some people. But lately, when I am asked that question I ask,
Where do you think I am from?
And most people have not said the U.S., instead they assume I am from México. Yes, that is true. My roots are Mexican and Guatemalan, but my experiences are based on my life and citizenship in the U.S. I knew that being a Latina in Spain would be interesting, but experiencing it directly myself has influenced my understanding of racial identity. I will give you a few examples of encounters I have experienced.
Example 1: One night, a few gals and I went out to a sangría bar. We had a really awesome time and met a big group of Spaniards. We talked until the bar closed and at one point during the night, one of the Spanish guys asked me where I was from. I told him I was from the United States, but my family migrated from Mexico and Guatemala. He was confused. He wanted to know how that worked, and his friend told me to just say I was Mexican because it would be easier for him to comprehend. Instead, I said that I also identified as a Chicana (a Mexican-American from California), just to confuse him a bit more.
Example 2: When I was heading home from Sol, I was saying goodbye to my friends in English. A man looked back and told me I spoke English very well, and I asked why that was surprising. He found it surprising because he said I looked like, “his people.” I was not too sure what that meant, but I then found out he grew up in Mexico. At first glance this man assumed I was from Mexico and could not understand how I could speak English so well.
These are just a few encounters. I do not get offended when I am asked this question, however I do find it interesting when Spaniards cannot fathom the fact that I am “American.” What does it mean to be and look like an “American?” And what is even more fascinating is that most of these confrontations are with men. I clearly do not look Spanish, but why is it that men are the only ones who are willing enough to ask me about my nationality? I am sure the men I have talked to are simply curious, but looking deeper into the experience, there is a power dynamic present. Men (in general) know they attain a privilege in society and feel they can ask and do as they please.
Not only that, but during most of these conversations, the men have felt the need to comment on my appearance; that being Mexican and Guatemalan created “una mezcla bonita.” Comment made about my looks were not insulting, but it is important to construct compliments. As a woman of color, I analyze almost every encounter I have, and when men mention my physical appearance, I have to wonder if my Latinidad is equated to exotification; especially since I am considered the “other” in Madrid. But what I am learning from these specific experiences is that other people’s perception of me will not change the fact that I encompass multiple cultures and that my experience as an American Latina cannot be changed while abroad ☺