This post is by Juliana Britto Schwartz and is a part of This AND That: Global Identities and Intersectionality, a series hosted by Gender Across Borders.
I am mixed. I live in what Latina feminist Gloria Anzaldúa would call “Nepantla,” a Nahuatl word meaning “land in the middle.” I can move back and forth; sometimes I am South of the Border, sometimes I am North.
I was born 20 years ago in San Francisco, to a Brazilian mother and a white American father. I was christened Juliana Britto Schwartz. My parents chose Juliana because both Portuguese and English can handle its simple vowels. It was a name that could pass in both worlds. My last names, however, did not represent such equitable compromises on the ethnic identity I was born into: having received one from each parent, it seems that no matter where I go, one of them sticks out. Only Juliana, which is only my own, is able to be pronounced wherever I am.
Growing up I never thought about being mixed. It wasn’t until I hit high school that it even occurred to me. I started a Mixed Ethnicity club, where we talked about how wrong it was that mixed people were always being forced to choose. I went to the affinity group for people of color and the White Consciousness group. In a predominantly white, private, high school, I made myself into one of the token Latinas, wearing long, colorful skirts and flowers in my hair.
However, as I made myself into the “other” among white people, I found that I did not belong among the Latin@s that I engaged with while working at a local restaurant or volunteering in the community center. I realized that I had been raised as much within upper-middle class white American culture as Latino culture, and it showed. I was always welcomed, but also seen as something of an “honorary” Latina.
Now, as a second year college student, I have heard enough interpretations of my ethnicity to banish me forever to the “other” box on the Census. I find that white people, enamored with my colorful and “exotic” way of dressing, tend to see me as Latina. Latin@s on the other hand, seem to see me as the Spanish-speaking white girl. People’s answers vary greatly depending on how full my skirt is, what language I am speaking, or how many flowers are in my hair that day.
I have my own interpretation of “what” I am. I don’t experience racism like many people of color, so in that sense I am white. But I wasn’t raised only white. Brazil is still very much part of me, and I still have to deal with all the stereotypes of Brazilian women that come with that (“You’re Brazilian? Oh…” eyebrows raise, heads tilts to the side, slight smirk creeps onto his face. “Do you dance samba?”). Therefore, I am also Brazilian. Which has left me no choice but to go right back where I started. Slowly, I have learned to listen to what I preached throughout high school: I’m both. Sometimes I’m Latina, sometimes I’m white. I’ll leave the house as Frida Kahlo, and come back to change into Rosie the Riveter. My ethnicity is a performance every day; passing is my middle name. I oscillate between various images of what it means to be Latina or white, some created, some appropriated. It’s always changing; tomorrow it might be completely different. All I know is that for now, I check two boxes, along with every other box in between.
Juliana is in her second year as an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, in California, where she is a Latin American and Latino Studies major, with a focus on Women’s Studies. She maintains her own blog at Julianabritto.com where she writes about Latina feminism, and her love affair with the New York Times. When she’s not attached to her computer, she is cooking, dancing salsa or tango, or at the beach.