This week, we’re welcoming guest author Larissa Veloso a multifaceted professional who works in journalism and marketing. Larissa is sharing her experience with data on race and ethnicity. A version of this piece originally appeared in Larissa’s Medium portfolio.
I BECAME LATIN AFTER MOVING TO CANADA
I became Latin after moving to Canada. This may sound strange coming from a born-and-raised Brazilian (a country in the heart of Latin America), but let me explain further my journey back-and-forth between races.
There is no “Latin” group of people in Brazil in the same way that there is often no “North American” group in Canada, due to the simple fact that everyone born in Canada is North American.
So we don’t have the “Latin” or “Hispanic”* alternative to choose from when we are informing our ethnicity in a form. Instead, we have:
- Mixed race (we say “Pardo”, the literal meaning is the Siena colour)
- Yellow (meaning Asian — don’t ask me why)
For many people, fitting their skin tone in this classification is not an exact science.
MAKING A CHOICE
My choice in Brazil was “White/Caucasian.” And that was not an easy conclusion either. As a child and teenager, I used to consider myself Mixed Race, for two reasons: firstly, I had a darker skin-tone (the result of a happy childhood playing outside in a tropical country). Secondly, I already had a social conscience, and I rather identify myself as part of a brave and oppressed group (Indigenous) then with the oppressor (Whites).
But the truth is that I’m in the border between Mixed and White. In my twenties, speaking with a friend with similar physical characteristics, we concluded that we were both White. That’s because the colour of the skin is not the only ethnic indicator. The shape of your nose and mouth, the texture and tone of your hair and the colour of your eyes also tell about your race.
Me and my friend, we are both a little dark-skinned, but we have thin noses, hair, and lips. That makes us “whiter.” There is also a social component. We were never socially treated as Mixed Race or People of Colour. We were clearly living with white privileges all along.
So after much thought, I made my peace with myself and accepted the fact that I was, indeed, White. I was a White middle-class woman with all the benefits that my race could bring me.
Until I moved to Canada and started to face this form:
My ethnicity hasn’t changed. But my racial status has. It makes no sense to include me in the “White” category in Canada. Firstly, because White people here are much whiter than me. Secondly, because of no matter my colour, I am Latin American. I came from a country on the American continent that speaks a language originated from Latin**. There is no running away from that.
Even so, there are even more nuances to that. I don’t look like the stereotypical Latin, and many people mistake me as French or Italian. And that is also a social advantage. Even so, I still have the accent, the culture and the way of socializing of a Latin American. At the end of the day, I have more in common with a Mexican (or even an Italian) than with a Canadian.
And that is not bad at all. In fact, I like being Latin, and I learned to be proud of it. I love the way all of our cultures blends together in common traces such as soccer, rice-and-bean meals, or even the way we communicate with each other by WhatsApp. It feels like me.
But I’m still wrapping my head around my image as a non-White person. Sometimes I have to remember myself that when people are talking about white people, it’s not about me. It is confusing, and I don’t know what to expect. Does it make a difference, since I still look non-Latin? Do I actually look non-Latin? How much of my racial disadvantages or privileges are linked to my image, and how much is connected to my “real” racial status?
I’m still finding out.
*Brazilians are Latin, but not Hispanic.
**And no, we don’t speak Spanish.