Monday, January 17, 2011

Enchiladas For Everyone

Ok, so I have a confession. I have no clue what an Enchilada is. Sure, I have seen it on a menu before, but I never stopped to see what was actually in it. Which is funny, considering the amount of times friends have asked me at a restaurant “Hey Tiff, What’s in that?”.

The truth is- I have absolutely no clue. What I do know however is that it’s a food that originated in Mexico. So it should come as no surprise that this is something that I may not be that familiar with, right? Wrong. It seems that lately, Mexican and Puerto Rican have come to be used interchangeably. I have been asked by countless people how on earth could I possibly be allergic to jalapenos?! Why don’t I like tacos, and other seemingly innocent questions regarding my ethnic “musts”. Which is astonishing to me to say the least, considering how obviously different these two countries are. When I try to explain that my ethnic background is Caribbean, they stare wide eyed and nod slowly. “But don’t you still speak the same language?” I was even asked once, if I was here legally. Say What????

The other day a girl invited me to join her “Hispanic” club at school, and proceeded to describe the clubs activities, which included lighting candles and praying to Saints for the “Day of the Dead”. Also, decorating skulls with flowers and preparing an elaborate meal which was to be left out overnight for the spirits. As fascinating as the traditions were, I was neither accustomed to them, nor familiar enough to feel comfortable partaking. They were Mexican traditions, and I am not Mexican.

Let’s put one thing on the table here. I was raised in New York City. You know, tall buildings, lots of lights? So I could not even begin to tell you where the best beaches in Puerto Rico are, though I really wish I could. My Spanish is a twisted, tangled mesh of English and Spanish, which couldn’t take me to the United Nations, but could definitely get me to the best Restaurant in town. Despite all this, I can still tell you this. Our dialects, customs, traditions, cultures, are immeasurably different. Not to mention the very obvious GEOGRAPHICAL difference. So why the confusion? Is skin color the only determining factor of who a person is, and where they come from?

As an avid reader and lover of the arts, some of my favorite pieces of literature are by Mexican authors, as well as my favorite artists (such as Frida Kahlo). I love the rich, pigmented turquoise and corals that formulate the color palettes of Mexican tapestry, and handmade jewelry. Yet while I greatly respect the rich, historical culture of Mexico, I simply cannot identify with a lot of it, and I should not be made to feel badly about this. I am not familiar with the tastes of the food, nor the sounds of the Mexican dialect. So I do not recognize it. I do recognize however, the smell of Mofongo, or roasted pernil wafting from the kitchen. I am familiar with the sound of the coqui on a night in the Caribbean, and the beat of the Conga making its way to my hips. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to deal with being racialized constantly within my own heritage, and now having to deal with being racialized OUTSIDE of it as well. I respect our similarities and differences, but refuse to be categorized into one lump definition of what “Latino” is. I am no more Mexican, than I am Cuban or Ecuadorian. Just like a person of Irish ancestry is not the same as a person with Italian ancestry. I think you get the picture here.

I refuse to let the history of my own ancestors be blended into the milieu of something that one was existent and valid, but now is only referred to as Hispanic. Hispanic is a Eurocentric term used to categorize all “Spanish speaking” citizens, which inadvertently disregards the African and Taino bloodlines of Puerto Ricans and was only recently adopted by the United States for census purposes because it seems that some people can’t wrap their heads around the very notion of Diversity.

Having said all this, I beg you to be the first one to identify the long term consequences of mass generalizations in regards to ethnic backgrounds, while acknowledging the remarkable cycle of that thing we call life, which brings us all together.
Oh, and if you’re not busy, let’s go grab some Margaritas. ;)

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