Wednesday, March 30, 2011

To Be or Not to Be Latina

The following essay was written in a moment of crisis, in a moment of painful identity struggle, from when I first moved to the United States. That is how I felt back then. Thanks to a lot of great readings and the support of amazing people, I am slowly finding my own place in this country.

To Be or Not to Be Latina
When I moved to the US three months ago, I was not sure how people here would read me in terms of race/ethnicity. Having lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for my whole life, race/ethnicity was not one of my biggest concerns while living there. In fact, I have always seen myself as a privileged person in a lot of ways. In Brazil, social class is still seen as the hardest struggle to overcome: “If you are poor”, people say, “It does not matter if you are White, Brown, or Black. It will be just as hard”.  Even though I have serious doubts regarding this type of statement (I do think it can become harder if you are poor, African descendent, and a woman). I believe I embraced this idea, considering my traditional leftist political and ideological perspectives. Therefore, race, color, or cultural background were elements which I rarely thought about while living in Brazil.
            Now, living in the US, I am facing issues such as being read as a woman of color. I first realized that was my reality here when I received, weeks ago, an invitation to a student of color meeting at the university. I still do not know exactly what that means. The consequences of being framed in this category remain obscure to me so far. Do I have to fight for something? Do I have to work harder than Whites? Am I going to suffer any type of prejudice for looking darker than Whites? Am I going to be more likely to be subjugated for being a woman of color? Am I ready to fight back?
I come from Latin America,I also a woman of color. Notice I did not say “I am a Latina.” I am still negotiating whether I want to be identified as such, or “Brazilian” will be how I will categorize myself. Do I control these things? Can I choose to be a Latina, or a Brazilian? I did not choose to be a woman of color; this is just the way people read me. What makes me think I will be the one deciding this matter?
Reading “La conciencia de la Mestiza,” from Glória Anzaldúa, I identified with her writings. But at the same time, I had the impression Anzaldúa was not including Portuguese-speaking people in the category “Mestiza,” or to state “somos de una gente.” Some people do not include Brazilians in the Latina/o category, including Brazilians. Where do I fit, then?
The fact that people know nothing about where I come from or what language I speak is sometimes frustrating, but also gives me the chance to reinvent myself, at least to a limited extent. Sometimes I refuse to be categorized as a Latina. Sometimes I identify myself as a Latina. Does that mean I am reinventing myself or is it just a demonstration of my identity struggle? Or perhaps both? What are the implications of being a Latina that speaks Portuguese? Does that make any difference? Am I going to be considered a fraud? Am I Latina enough?
The truth is that no matter what I state, to be or not to be Latina is definitely my biggest struggle right now. Being a Latina encompasses a lot of oppressive elements. Am I oppressed enough to claim this identity? Am I having a diasporic crisis? Is living in “la frontera” the best choice to heal my internal conflicts? Right now, I see myself as my own worst enemy. I cannot decide what I want or where I belong. On the other hand, I do not know how much choice I have in this struggle of identity. I am still fighting to transform my small “I” into my total Self.

Raquel Portilho