As a child, I remember struggling on how to identify on standardized tests. Specifically, in the second grade, I remember marking myself down as Hispanic/Latino when asked my race/ethnicity and then having a teaching assistant correct me to let me know that I could only put down I was white.
As if one person couldn’t be more than one thing -- as if I either had to identify with being white or being Puerto Rican. Back then, however, as an eight-year-old sitting in a classroom with mostly white children, I felt like I should identify as white, and push the other half of me to the sideline. After all, if that was how one of the oldest (and in my mind, wisest) people in the room saw me, then I should align my identity with their perception -- right?
Wrong. I was so, so wrong. Letting others define me was something I continued to do until fairly recently. It wasn’t until I was half-way through high school, maybe around the age of 16, that I first started to acknowledge that I was Puerto Rican to the people outside of my family.
Even then, people still questioned my identification -- citing my blonde hair and blue eyes as evidence to support the notion that I could only consider myself a "white girl."
According to some people I’ve come across because I didn’t fit the perceived image of what a Latina was, I couldn’t identify with being one. In their minds, I didn’t look resemble Jennifer Lopez, Eva Longoria, or America Ferrera and, thus, should not identify myself on any test, survey, or application as being Hispanic/Latino. Thus, the struggle continued, with one, new, change: I now, being in high school, checked the box titled, "Prefer Not to Answer."
After years of thinking I could only identify with one-half of me or the other, I’ve come to one conclusion about the concept of checking off only one box for both your race and ethnicity for standardized tests: the whole notion is completely ridiculous, and identity crisis spawning.
In my low points, I still get confused on who exactly I am, despite the fact I’ve repeated to myself that I can be more than one thing, that not every Latina is has a certain skin pigment, a certain accent, or certain facial features.
Still, in the back of my head, I can’t help but doubt myself. Should I identify as solely a Caucasian person -- pushing aside the half of me that’s grown up in a house full of Spanish speakers, Puerto Rican food, and a dad born outside of the 50 states? Or should I identify as a Latina -- knowing fully that because of the fact I do look like a white girl, I haven’t experienced as the same struggles most have, such as discrimination, profiling, and flat out racism?
By identifying as this, am I appropriating the struggles of Latinos, a struggle that is not fully my own?
These thoughts only come up every once in a while, when yet another person questions how I identity. It’s frustrating. It makes me question myself. It makes me my hate taking standardized tests, filling out applications, and doing anything where I have to check boxes that assume I can only be one extreme or another, and nothing in between.
To the people who question me, and how I identify: I respect you, and your identification. All I ask is that you respect me, and allow me to go through the struggle of how to identity without your insertion of perceived notions of what I look like, and thus must be. I am aware I am white. I am aware I am also a Latina.
Making me choose between a box that reads Caucasian and a box that reads Hispanic/Latino is unreasonable. Why can’t we, as people, accept that someone can be both?