My parents were classy beautiful Latin people. They grew up in the 30’s, a time when you looked clean, you were pressed; you looked people in the eye; you were gracious, no matter how much money you did or didn’t have. Those were the values I went into the world with. –Gina Torres, portrayer Zoe Washburne in Firefly/Serenity
Being born in Brazil made me who I am. –Morena Baccarin, portrayer of Inara SerraAs a second-generation Chilena Americana of a Pinochet-era immigrant mother, I am constantly amazed by the frequency with which I am interrogated about the legitimacy of my Latina identity. I am told that I do not “look” Latina, I do not “speak” like a Latina, my accent does not “sound” as though it belongs to a Latina. The implication being that I am simply trying to “pass” as a Latina, though for what reason, I cannot say. I did not realize that so many people were trying to achieve admittance to a group particularly targeted for banishment from this country in a time when "looking Latin@" is equated with "looking illegal" ("Arizona...").
In her article for VidaAfroLatina, Ivy Farguheson reflects on the many instances in which her race has been challenged:
They question our heritage, our legitimacy. Our Latino-ness, as it were. And the problem continues if you don’t have an accent and don’t look like what people think “Latinos” should look like.So, what should I look like if I want to appear indisputably Latina? At times, the feeling that I don’t belong, notably as a result of primarily White people questioning whether or not I really belong to the race of my ancestors, becomes too difficult to deal with. I consider dying my hair black, getting a perm, I darken my eyebrows, put on thick, dark red lip liner and large, golden hoop earrings. I smack gum and refer to people as “mamí” and “papí.” I wear bright colors, skirts, and high heeled shoes.
I become a walking stereotype, and I look no more Latina than usual, for my usual appearance, no matter what it is, is Latina for I am Latina.
...the truth is most U.S. Latinos, especially in the Southwest, don't see skin color.There exists an immense rage related to this issue of having to “fit in” to White perceptions of what Latin@s should look like.
And the reason is simple.
Within Latino families, there can exist a variety of different skin tones. From the very fair-skinned to the very dark, families are comprised of members who may not even look like they're related but they all share the same blood and family history.
I recently tried to explain what I refer to as “the rage” to a White colleague. How can I explain that I am angry because my mother and tio were so mistreated when they first came to this country that the only place they could safely live was on the Yakima Indian Reservation? When cohorts express disgust at the new policies going into effect in Arizona surrounding the “illegal immigrant problem,” how am I to explain that I literally agonized over dropping out of school to become a lobbyist for Latin@ rights as a result of these new laws? What words can I use to discuss the turmoil during the summer of 2008 when I tried to figure out whether it would be better for the Latin@ community if I applied for a PhD or a law degree?
The rage is expressed so beautifully though still undefined in Sandra Cisneros’ Caramelo:
A part of me wants to kick their ass. A part of me feels sorry for their stupid ignorant selves. But if you've never been father south than Nuevo Laredo, how the hell would you know what Mexicans are supposed to look like, right?
There are the green-eyed Mexicans. The rich blond Mexicans. The Mexicans with the faces of Arab sheiks. The Jewish Mexicans. The big-footed-as-a-German Mexicans. The leftover-French Mexicans. The chaparrito compact Mexicans. The Tarahumara tall-as-desert-saguaro Mexicans. The Mediterranean Mexicans. The Mexicans with Tunisian eyebrows. The negrito Mexicans of the double coasts. The Chinese Mexicans. The curly-haired, freckled-faced, red-headed Mexicans. The jaguar-lipped Mexicans. The wide-as-a-Tula-tree Zapotec Mexicans. The Lebanese Mexicans. Look, I don't know what you're talking about when you say I don't look Mexican. I am Mexican (352-353).
So how does Firefly, the (far, far too) short-lived but much appreciated Joss Whedon space Western, fit into all this? Well, for starters, take a look at this picture of the show's female cast members.
As the caption explains, the lady in the blue dress is the gloriously sexy, dark-skinned Gina Torres. To her right stands the classically beautiful fair-skinned Morena Baccarin. While Torres is often referred to as a “strong Black woman” in the Whedonverse, and Baccarin called a “wispy White woman,” both are Latina (Torres is Cuban/Puerto Rican, Baccarin is Brazilian). Together, they demonstrate how impossible it is to accurately define “what a Latina looks like.” As Ivy Farguheson explains:
You cannot tell every Latino by our looks or our names. You can only know us by learning about us and listening to our unique stories.Note: Latina is used to refer to Latin women, while Latino refers to Latin men. Latin@ includes both an a and an o at the end, referring to Latin folks of both genders. It is not a typo :)
Works Cited"Arizona governor signs immigration bill." CNN. 24 Apr. 2010. 3 June 2010 http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/04/23/obama.immigration/index.html
Cisneros, Sandra. Caramelo. New York: Vintage, 2002.
Farguheson, Ivy. “A Latina by Any Other Name Sounds Just as Dulce.” VidaAfroLatina 31 Jan. 2009: online ed. 3 June 2010 http://vidaafrolatina.com/A_Latina_by_Any_Other_Na.html
Torres, Gina. "Bio & Contact." Gina-Torres.com. 2010. 3 June 2010 http://www.gina-torres.com/about/
Treviño, Marisa. “For Latinos ‘being white’ is more a state of mind than skin tone.” Latina Lista. 1 June 2010. 3 June 2010 http://www.latinalista.net/palabrafinal/2010/06/for_latinos_being_white_is_more_of_a_sta.html
Weltman, Wladimir. "Morena Baccarin: Brazilian Born Alien." The Rio Times 25 May 2010: online ed. 3 June 2010 http://riotimesonline.com/news/rio-entertainment/morena-baccarin-brazilian-born-alien/