I have an enormous amount of pride in where I’m from and my background. I grew up on Staten Island. When I meet people that aren’t from Staten Island, I always get teased with jokes saying, “Isn’t that just Jersey?” or “You’re not even a borough.” I just laugh it off and take it because home will always be home.
I identify as a Hispanic woman. I take pride in introducing myself as Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian and Brazilian.
Staten Island, however, has a majority white population. According to the United States Census, as of July 2016, 76.6 percent of Richmond County identified as white. This number dominates other races, including African-Americans with an 11.8 percent population and Asians with 8.8 percent. The Hispanic population on Staten Island is only 18.4 percent, about one quarter of the white population.
When I tell people about my background, they’re either shocked, nod my statement off or don’t believe me. I may emphasize my background, but I’ve adjusted to introduce myself as a white Hispanic, meaning my skin tone may be olive, but my actions sometimes deceive me as the white girl stereotype. I even joke around and say I’m a white girl trapped in a Hispanic body.
To me, being a white Hispanic means having white girl stereotypes sprinkled into your personality while still upholding a Hispanic background. I am able to embrace both my Staten Island upbringing and my Hispanic roots. I still get offended, however, when people think I am joking about my background. I recently went on a date where I told the guy I’m Hispanic and he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t stop saying, “If I was a stranger, I would’ve never thought,” as he continued laughing after.
I take two different approaches to the offense. On one hand, I’m offended because the Spanish background tends to be negatively stereotyped. I once had my ex-boyfriend’s white father ask him if he was going to eat tacos when he was heading to my house for family dinner. We didn’t.
The other side of the offense is that these comments make me feel as if I don’t express my Hispanic heritage enough. I can’t help that I grew up around mostly white people. I went to a very diverse high school, but the gap between white and Hispanic students was still 20 percent. My close friends are all white, except for my best friend who is Puerto Rican, and all of my neighbors have been white.
The Staten Island girl stereotype includes having a love for Starbucks, carrying Michael Kors bags 24/7 and being white. I embody two of the three qualities. I am proud of my Staten Island upbringing. Why should I be expected to give up Starbucks or Michael Kors just to eliminate the shock from strangers about my background?
I embrace my Hispanic background all of the time. One of my Spotify daily mixes is all Spanish music that I’ll listen to anytime, any place. My parents and extended family have also exposed me to Spanish dancing and the language. I also crave Spanish food anytime. I have it for dinner, but not every night, and have also been taught how to cook certain Puerto Rican dishes. Am I perfect at these things? No, but what matters is I am aware of the elements that make up my culture.
I have never judged anyone by their skin tone when meeting them. I’ve just been limited to mostly white friends, because of Staten Island’s demographics. My friend group at Stony Brook has expanded my perspective and contributed to my identity. My group is a melting pot of both whites and minorities. My two best friends on campus embody this situation perfectly. One of them is white, while the other is Jamaican. Because I have more diversity in my friend group, I’ve been able to be more open about my background through school events. I participated in the Caribbean Student Organization’s fashion show last semester in honor of my Puerto Rican side. I’ve attended parties where there is a majority minority population and felt even more comfortable embracing my Hispanic origins. I had never been to a party like that back home before. I found others who can sing along to the same songs as me, dance with me and most importantly, have as much pride in their background as I do. I was held back all of these years from embracing my ethnicity as much as I wanted to because of the overpowering white population.
I am sorry society that I cannot be the typical Hispanic woman that you want me to be. I may fulfill some of your stereotypes. I am loud. I am family-oriented. I love to watch and play soccer. But I am not what you expect me to be. I am much more than that. I speak fluent English. I don’t eat Hispanic food for dinner every night. I will still carry around my large Michael Kors bag and Starbucks with Nicky Jam blaring through my headphones. I will speak with a clear, American accent unless I am speaking Spanish. I am a white Hispanic from Staten Island and couldn’t be more proud.