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My Latino Husband is White


Quite frankly, I’m surprised you hadn’t noticed.

I write a blog about multicultural marriage, but when I post photos it may be obvious that I am about one-day-at-the-pool away from the same general skin tone as him.

Or maybe it crossed your mind, but you are too polite to say anything. Not everyone is so shy though.

Most recently, Billy was asked where he was from. When he answered “Guatemala,” the quick response was, “Oh, are your parents missionaries?” When he said “no,” he received a quizzical look and a follow-up question. Billy continued to explain. The guy finally closed the conversation with “There’s something you’re not telling me” and walked away.

Billy and I laughed heartily over “there’s something you’re not telling me,” but I do imagine he grows weary over the consistent questioning of his ethnic identity. And he receives questions from everyone... Latino and otherwise.

One guy painting our apartment in LA was shocked when Billy began speaking Spanish. When he learned he was Guatemalan, the painter replied, “Usually when I meet guatemaltecos, they look like me… Indian.” Billy smiled and simply said, “I’m wearing a mask.”

He’s been asked if he’s a Spanish teacher, a missionary kid, if he was born there, if his parents were born there… but everyone is really asking the same thing. Why don’t you look like what I think a Latino is supposed to look like?

***

I get it. The first time I met light-skinned Latinos was in college. I was more familiar with the image of the Mexican or Central American representation of Latinos, and I felt a bit confused.

What I learned through those relationships and the ones since is that Spanish-speaking ethnic groups identify with several different racial categories. In Billy’s case, his ancestors hailed from Spain (get it? Spanish…yeah, that didn't occur to me right away...) and were therefore European. Entonces… light skin.

It’s fascinating to me how descendants of Spain in the US are “white” and descendants of the same country living in Guatemala are “Latino.” But it alludes to the complexities of race and ethnicity and language in our society. My sociology background teaches on the “social construction of race,” a topic about which I may blog more in the future. It’s really interesting (says the sociology nerd).

Billy’s racially ambiguity had to be clarified on the 2010 Census, and I was interested to see how it would be addressed. Well, there was an entire question “Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?” They offered a couple options, such as Puerto Rican and Cuban. Ultimately, we filled in the blank: “Guatemalan.”

But there was also a race question: “What is this person’s race?” The choices were: White, Black (African American or Negro), American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan, Other Asian, Other Pacific Islander, or “Some other race.”

So it’s official… my Latino husband is white.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or reflections.

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34 comments

  1. Andres Villatoro11:43 AM

    I had an interesting time thinking about what race I was during the 2010 Census also. It took me as a surprise to think of myself as biracial, that is, a mix of european and Native American descent. I had never seen myself like that.Latin America is astounding in the way all races, well most, have been able to associated themselves with one culture and in many ways decreasing racial discrimination although by no means eliminate it. Everytime I go to Guatemala, I think I have the liberty to disassociate myself with being "Latino," a social marker here in the United States. However, having grown up in the US, being in Guatemala makes me a lot more self-conscious about what Race I am. That is, how white or how dark I look, features that are heightened thanks to racial/class tension I experience in Guatemala between Mestizos/white and Indigenous Guatemalans. It is always an interesting experience being in Guatemala and techinically being white, and priveleged, a fact I always wrestle with when I'm there.


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    1. Hey Andres - Thanks for commenting! You bring a great perspective. And I completely agree with you. The variety of races in Latin America is fascinating, but it does not come without history and tensions of its own.

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  2. I get the same thing...but differently being a light skinned biracial white/black person, but even more with my kids..."i.e. are those *your* kids?" (read: who's white kids are those? the ones your babysitting) Since my hubby is white, they are way lighter than me & I have no hope for them not getting endless "what are you jewish or latino or other?" comments.

    the census was interesting to me as well. One take I heard on it was that it's set up to create a new "white," since the old/current white is bracing it self for nothingness with Latino's population skyrocketing in the next 15-50 years. By forcing people like your husband into the white category, it creates a surge of numbers for whites, thereby maintaining some sort of heirarchal structure. I'm not sure I agree wtih all of it, but it's what I heard & it makes some sense....either way, race relations in America are JACKED up.

    Sorry your hubby has to endure that, trust me, I understand.

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  3. My latino husband is white, too. One side of his family tree descends from Spain. For some reason, his family doesn't recognize that they are indeed latino. He hails from Florida, a place where Latinos from all over the Americas and caribbean reside so I don't know if the questions would be the same. My hubby's latina grandmother passed away when he was a child and with her the connection to that part of their heritage, I suppose.

    When he and I met in college, I found out he was latino and was fascinated. But he said he was barely Cuban and in no way identified as such. (FYI, grandma had fair skin and red hair but we were in college where I also met very light skinned, blonde haired Italians). I found it odd... at the time I was searching for every angle and asset I could to qualify for more college scholarship money and this guy didn't even utilize his family ethnicity to his advantage.

    We now have a child and I don't know what to teach him about that heritage.

    Thanks for the blog entry.

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  4. I am currently writing a book entitled, "Check One Box: Reflections on Race, Ethnicity, and Color", and would L-O-V-E to include your husband's reflections on how he's dealt with questions of ethnicity (and even YOUR reflections on the topic as well!). Find us on facebook.com/CheckOneBox or twitter.com/checkonebox...please stay in touch! ~Alysia Cosby

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  5. I am so grateful for y'all sharing your stories.

    Grace, I have never heard that about creating a new "white," but that is a fascinating concept! I may need to research this some more....

    Corissa, thank you for sharing your family's experience. I have also met folks who are disconnected from that heritage, and it makes me so sad. We are being so intentional about raising our daughter bilingual and bicultural, but sometimes I wonder if that will carry to our grandchildren. Or will they simply say, "Oh yeah, my grandfather is from Guatemala" and that's the extent?

    Alysia, thanks for stopping by! I will check out your book. Sounds very interesting...

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  6. Sarah, race and identity and country of origin are such SUCH interesting topics. I feel like we could sit down and talk for hours about this-- I have often wondered if our daughter will be more light skinned or darker? Will she identify more as Guatemalan because we live here? Or will she know she is different? Part estadounidense?

    Sometime I'll write a post about how a well-meaning/horribly assuming neighbor of a friend in Santa Barbara asked Gerber if he was the gardener as we were leaving the house?!? Couldn't believe it!

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    1. Oh no! So sorry to hear about your neighbor and Gerber's experience. I agree with you - I find this topic fascinating and am amazed at all the different ways that identity piece shows up in individual's unique experiences.

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  7. Being all white all the time this is fascinating to me. I was definitely the outsider while living in Costa Rica and it was hard to get used to so I can't really imagine living there permanently.
    I have a Filipino friend married to a Japanese man and they live in Dubai. There Filipinos are generally the laborer class although she has the better job - she works for an elevator company in their offices. She has frequently written about how she is taken for the nanny of her daughter since she looks so much more Japanese. It's offensive especially with the connotations of what it means there.

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    1. Sorry to hear about your friend's painful experience. I wish we could all take that extra moment to squash stereotypes and allow someone to introduce themselves to us as they are... how they would like to be known... Thank you for sharing.

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  8. I am a future Mission Year team member and just graduated from Boston University with a BA in sociology...sooo as a fellow sociology nerd- I agree! it IS interesting! haha. us sociology nerds are so misunderstood.

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    1. Yay! Sociology nerds unite! I mean, for real, we're a small, but faithful crew. :)

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  9. Heather Caliri7:30 PM

    One of my Argentine friends visited me in San Diego, and we crossed the border to Tijuana. She got really mad at all the street hawkers trying to sell her stuff in English. Finally she yelled, "I'm not a Yankee! I'm Argentine, so speak to me in Spanish!"
    I think the idea is really complex, because Argentines are kind of famous for trying to cling to their "more European" identity; Americans (myself included once upon a time, sadly), think of it as somehow not as Latino, and subconsciously denigrate the rest of Latin America as being more "native." Color has everything to do with our attitudes, but it's hard to admit.
    Super interesting. I'm curious how your husband is perceived by his fellow Guatemalans.

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  10. michelle lucio5:35 PM

    As an American born, white Cuban, this happens to me alllll the time. Thanks bringing this subject to light!

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  11. Yes! Totally resonate with your friend's experience. And I love her throwing around the word "Yankee." That's awesome!



    Billy's experiences with other Guatemalans are varied. Sometimes those unfamiliar with the capital are also surprised to see such a light-skinned Guatemalan. Those from the capital are definitely less surprised. There are class and race issues in Guatemala as well, and sometimes that plays out a little bit in the States as well.

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  12. Hi Michelle! Thanks for reading and for adding your story!

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  13. Gabriela3:35 PM

    Krista, where'd you live in Costa Rica? I was surprised to see that you were an outsider considering a large population of Costa Ricans are very "white"

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  14. Hi Gabriela! I don't know where Krista was living, but I just wanted to say "hi!" :) So glad you joined in the conversation. And I just had to pipe up because I love it when folks have the same name as my daughter!

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  15. Gabriela12:05 PM

    You gave your daughter a great name, haha! :)

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  16. Hmmmhhhhh, I often wonder about that too! I'm growing up in a very diverse neighborhood of mostly Hispanic people, so when ever I see a light skinned person or, even, dark skinned person say that they are Hispanic I believe them, however I often ask them what country they come from too. I have lots of Hispanic friends that are guatalmalen, Ecuadoran, Puerto Rican, Spanish,Honduran,Peruvian, Mexican and some other countries too! I often find it fascinating when I meet people who don't know that Hispanic people come from all shades and colors. Kind of like black people. Or and about those census, FORGET ABOUT IT! I often get confused when I take those. I consider myself mix, but my family say otherwise. My moms African American (Very ebony black) and my dad's Jamaican (A little lighter than Indian). My dad's ancestory goes from china to India to Europe really, and my moms your traditional black woman. So me coming out having, a skin tone that's generally on the darker side (a little darker than Kerry washingtons) I'm often classified as African American. Like I accept it but I'm, not African. If I could say that I was Jamaican American I would cause my moms American and my dads Jamaican. However I can't.

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  17. Ha ha, missed this comment, but came back by way of a recent link and was reading the comments again! Gabriela I was at school in a suburb of San Jose, but I am VERY white so no one could mistake me for a Tico, even when I was "tan" after being there for 4 months! ;)

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  18. This is the story of my life. My parents are Hispanic, mom is Puerto Rican and my dad's family came to Puerto Rico from Spain, so my "lighter" skin with black hair throws off people all the time. It is still a sensitive subject after all these years. It hurts to have to prove your cultural identity constantly. Thanks so much for your post.

    www.alifelesstravel.blogspot.com

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  19. Hi Denise! Thanks for stopping by. It is a sensitive subject and can be hard to feel like you're always have to explain or, like you said, "prove" yourself. I'm glad the post was relatable.

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  20. davisha4:50 AM

    i want to use this medium to testify of how i got back my ex boyfriend. After 4 years in relationship with my husband with 3 kids, he suddenly started going out with other ladies and coming home late, most at times drunk and each time i confront him about this it turns out to be fight, he even threatened to divorce me severally, I was emotionally devastated because i was not sure of what to do to make him love me again, I tried all i could to make him love me again but all proved abortive until i saw a post on the internet on how a spell caster Dr. Zaki helps people restore back their broken relationship/marriage at first i doubted this but decided to give it a try, when i contacted this spell caster via email he helped me cast a re-union spell and within 5hours my husband came to me apologizing and today we are happily together again. Contact this great spell caster on your marriage and relationship problems at dr.zakispellhome@gmail.com Goodluck

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  21. Thanks for sharing your story, Mya. Great examples of the limits of our current categories of race. For what it's worth, I totally think you should say you're Jamaican American! ;)

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  22. Molly A12:22 PM

    This post really speaks to me. My husband is Nicaraguan and white, and to top it off, he's got an English last name. His family immigrated from England to Peru are few generations back, and they are now an interesting melange of Spanish, English, Italian, and Indian blood. People assume all the time that I kept my own name or that he took mine or goodness knows what else. He's had people refuse to speak Spanish to him, thinking he's just some gringo trying to fit in or something. The very best was when a coworker told me that he should consider changing his name to something more Spanish. "Like Guerrero. It means warrior. That's a cool name."


    Fact is, Central and South America are melting pots just like the US. Hispanic isn't a race. It's a culture. A varied and diverse culture.


    Anyway, I'm so glad to have found your blog. There is so much I can relate to in what you're writing. Thank you.

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  23. Hi Molly! I'm so glad you're here! I love meeting new folks who can relate to our crazy experiences. :) Change your last name???? What a wild suggestion! And I can't believe people REFUSE to speak to him in Spanish. I'm sure that doesn't feel good. You are exactly write about the varied cultures of Central and South America. I'm so happy to meet you!

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  24. JC Valladares12:07 PM

    Hi, i am guatemalan and I don't know why the american are surprised about that? I'm White and all my family is white, with green eyes and blonde hair. I think the american has an wrong stereotype about the latinos, we are white too.

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  25. You are exactly right! Thanks for commenting, JC!

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  26. orana velarde10:58 PM

    I am a white Peruvian and a while ago I used to work in Cusco with a dark skinned Australian / South African woman. She owned an Aussie bar and I was her barmaid. Every single day we would get the same comments. I was the Australian and she was my Inca employee. We tried to laugh it off as much we could to not seem unfriendly but we were really tired of it. Sometimes it was three times in one day. Later when living in Buenos Aires, Argentines would not believe I was Peruvian because I ·"had nice teeth" "was blond" "talked like a european" I was offended very often.
    Thank You for writing this story I really could relate.

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  27. I'm glad you can relate to my writing, though I'm sad you can relate to the unfortunate experience of strangers making awkward comments about your appearance. Thank you for sharing your story with me. It means a lot.

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  28. Karla Childs7:44 PM

    My great grandmother was German. So I don't really look like the average Guatemalan woman. I'm taller than the average here, my skin and hair tone lighter than the average also. I've been confused many times as a foreigner in my own country and even called gringa a few others. No biggie here. Its amusing.

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  29. coraje11:09 PM

    Hi, First time reader :) I get that your blog is personal, but I would love for you to delve into what this experience means -- what being white and Latino means to Latinos, and more about how white Americans react. And Americans of color, who aren't Latinos! And I gotta point out a couple rookie mistakes, or slips of the "tongue" here:
    -you wrote: "I was more familiar with the image of the Mexican or Central American representation of Latinos, and I felt a bit confused. "
    Umm, obviously there are many white Mexicans, as well as Guatemalans...
    and "European. Entonces… light skin."
    Also not true. Depends what part of Europe.

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  30. Hi there. So glad you stopped by! And thanks for sharing your thoughts on the diversity of skin tones in Mexico, Central America, and Europe. I completely agree! Also, I don't know if you ever read the Huffington Post's Latino Voices, but lately they've had some great articles on being Latino and white that you may be interested in.

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