Despite working in a male-dominated field, I’ve never had the circumstance of being the “token” female, though we don’t always come in large numbers. There’s always some trepidation as to what “kind” of female they were going to get before I arrive which makes me laugh a little. Even so, it’s not often my only hurdle in coming to a new workplace. I’ve been the “token” Hispanic more than once, though. As stated last week, this is convenient for them because I don’t have a lot of the characteristics that they dislike about Hispanics. I don’t speak Spanish so there’s no way I can speak it at work. I don’t have a background laden with the kind of hardship that they can’t even imagine and therefore minimize. I don’t send money to anyone in any other country, so this is also not available to insult their delicate sensibilities. I was not born in another country, so there is relatively no discussion on immigration or their feelings about it. I can sit in the shop and be counted by the head-counters but my presence doesn’t impose upon the shop the need to question or change their minds about Hispanics or take another look at the actual hardships that many face when initially coming to the US. I was a great token for a while.
That ended when I started to take back a little bit of my Hispanic identity. I had lost it somewhere in my childhood. I had been raised in Miami, and being half white in a mostly Hispanic community meant that I was the “gringa” or the white girl. I really believed this about myself for many years. When I moved from Miami, they changed my ethnicity on my paperwork to Hispanic which prompted quite the fit and I demanded they change it back. In retrospect, that experience has given me a peak into the window of how some white people feel about affirmative action. It is a “privilege” to those who are minorities and that white men are specifically excluded from. Yes, not all men or white men or any group, but some really feel this way.
After that, I was asked occasionally if I was Hispanic and I’d just say that I had some Hispanic heritage. I didn’t consider myself raised in a traditionally Hispanic manner. It happens sometimes, though, that coworkers will bond over stories of our childhoods and that was when I learned differently. I had no idea what a “switch” was and I was horrified that people were hit with tree branches when they were children. Instead, a sandal (or whatever was around) was thrown in my direction when I was about to get into trouble. Punishment was immediate and I never “waited for my father to get home” either. As the years rolled by and I started to see what other cultures were like, I grew a better appreciation for that part of my heritage.
That’s not just an appreciation as in having learned it better and like it more, either. It’s the kind of appreciation you have for the dollar after you’ve had to earn one. I had never felt a part of my own heritage because I kind of straddled two cultures. My parents took what worked from each of their families and merged it to a pretty great childhood that felt full of opportunities. I wasn’t a part of either culture, my brother and I were something wholly different from most people we knew in this regard.
The great thing about it is that I can really surprise people when typically Hispanic issues first come up in a workplace. I can be that advocate for questioning your thoughts about Hispanics that you weren’t necessarily expecting. I can argue for understanding of people who send their income to other countries or who immigrate to the US with arguments that are normally used against them. This gets convoluted quickly online, but works out great in person most of the time. I can use the experience from both sides to bridge the gap in most spaces that I occupy. Most of the time, my main goal is just to reach an understanding of a bit more of the picture than they were seeing. It doesn’t work for everyone, and it never works out on the first conversation, but we come to an understanding eventually.
I guess I’m still a great token, I’m just not great for people who want to hate on Hispanics or minorities of any kind in my vicinity anymore. The funny thing to me, though, is that I’d still be a token in a room full of Hispanics because that white side. Always an other, never the same.
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