What defines a person of color? Is it race? Ethnicity? Color? The answer can be longer than one word. More complex than a simple label. Bigger than a box.
It has been ingrained in us to label and put people in a box based on what they look like. But we come in the form of so many nationalities, colors and shades that the line separating “white” and “person of color” can be really blurry.
A person of color, commonly referred to as POC, is defined as “A person who is not white or of European parentage”. My skin is white, but I am a person of color because I am Latina. My great grandparents from my mother’s side are Spaniards, and my last name is Italian according to several ancestry websites. So even if my race is white, I have European ancestors, and the way I look is not the image that comes to mind when thinking of people of color, I am still a member of the POC community.
I applied for a fellowship which requires that applicants be “…a student of color (African-American, Asian-American, Latino, or Native American).” When asked what race I am in application forms, I check “white.” But when it comes to ethnicity, I check “Hispanic/Latino” instead of “white.”
Does being a light-skinned Latina mean I am not living the POC experience? Do I have privilege over my darker counterparts for being somehow “white-passing?”
At first glance, I might have some sort advantage when others look at me. I can walk in the streets wearing a hoodie with less fear than an African-American or brown Latino would. I see more people in beauty magazines that resemble my skin tone than Afro-Latinas do. However, the moment I start talking, people can notice my Spanish accent and tell that I am Latina. A minority. A person of color.
I came to the U.S. from Cuba as a teenager and had to become accustomed to a different culture, learn a new language and had people make fun of me for being a new immigrant and pronouncing words incorrectly. And as far as name profiling on job applications and other instances, my last name ends in a vowel. In that sense, I still live the POC experience of a Latino.
Growing up in Cuba, I saw pale blonde and redhead Cubans, dark-skinned Afro-Cubans and everything in between. The same applies to other Latin American countries. History tells us that indigenous people, European immigrants and African slaves intermingled to create all sorts of mixes, including mestizos and mulattos.
We all have different experiences. The POC umbrella is so big some people are even against using the term because it can be vague. Perhaps being more specific can help, and using more than one word or term to describe a person can be more accurate.
We also have completely unique identities that we can describe with different terms. But at the end of the day, if you choose to call yourself or others a person of color or a more specific term, don’t try to guess a person’s race, ethnic background or any other term based on what you think that person looks like or has experienced. Don’t try to question someone’s identity because of a preconceived notion about the person’s skin color, name, accent or whatever other information that can be stereotyped. Stay educated and open to meet people you never thought existed. There are billions of us in this world.
By: Adriana Falero
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