By Trina Otero
Originally written Thursday, September 18, 2008.
I’m about to write an account of what happened to me a few weekends ago, and I want to say that I can only give my side of the story as accurately as I possibly can. Also, I already understand that I experienced and have been reflecting on this event through my own cultural lens (and understanding). But by writing this blog I hope I can open some people’s eyes, and at the same time open this topic up to discussion. I am not writing this entry to offend anyone. This may get sticky, but we will see.
I met a guy a few weeks ago by the name of David. [There are many Davids in this world, so I am not revealing any private information.] For the purpose of this account I have to include that he is a Caucasian (white) male. He wanted to hang out with me on a Saturday night, and he offered to pick me up from my apartment. [I would have met him somewhere or drove to his place, but my car was broken down.] He picked me up using his room mate’s car, and drove us to his apartment in Greenwood (an area outside the city of Indianapolis, which is predominantly white from my experience). David introduced me to his room mate, his name I have forgotten, and we continued to talk and hang out. Both David and his room mate noticed I was texting a lot and they made a remark. Normally, I am not rude like this – if I am with a friend or someone I have just met I leave my phone in my purse. But I began to realize that my phone was my security and texting my friends made me feel safe while I was there in David’s apartment – in Greenwood, Indiana. As we hung out, I began to think and understand why I needed “security.” I needed security because I was hanging out with two white males in a predominantly white area – something I don’t think I’ve ever done in my life before.
I observed David and his room mate, and picked up on this vibe between them, which was more like tension. I could tell that his room mate is dominant/bossy by nature, has some anger issues, and he is cocky. On the other hand, David is goofy and while he shows leadership quality, he seemed very passive when interacting with his room mate. I also noticed the lack of respect his room mate had towards David, especially the respect that should be present since David is slightly older than him.
His room mate left the apartment to go visit someone, and David and I were alone. We chatted, started cooking and popped in a movie. Somehow he and I got into the conversation about who we date, and I told him that I have never dated a white man nor a Latino. I told him that Latino men are too macho and playboy-ish…. but I did recollect dating a Cuban for a very short time while in high school. It was definitely nothing serious. But shortly after me and mi Cubano started “dating” I found out he left to Florida (without telling me) to be with his male lover. Yeah, go figure. I never got to explain why I never dated a white guy, because David was so in shock that I basically have only dated Black guys. He made this face, as if appalled and disgusted at the same time, and said, “You?! And…Black guys?!” “Like, seriously, Black guys?! Wow. Why?!” I was very surprised at how taken aback he was. Did he not see that we are living in 2008, where there are many interracial couples? Then he said, “Well, I guess I have no shot at all!” I almost found humor in his reaction, but I was genuinely curious….so I asked if he had dated a Black girl before. And he gave me the craziest face and said “No.” I shouldn’t have been too surprised at his reaction, because earlier that night I had picked up on some of his racial and discriminatory remarks.
For example, earlier that night he had made a remark to me that this Muslim store clerk looked “funny” to him, etc. I was VERY offended at all the remarks he made about this Muslim man….and I told him that he should be careful about what he says, because he didn’t even know if I am Muslim!
He looked at me and asked, “Oh, so are you Muslim?” And I told him no, not exactly, but neither am I anything with a title. I refuse to put a title on what I believe, and I told him that I have great respect for the religion of Islam and believe it is a beautiful religion. I told him he was offending me and told him to be more culturally-sensitive. This isn’t the only offensive comment he made. He had no problem telling me that I live in the “ghetto” [I live on the West-side, folks, and to me I think it is definitely not the ghetto. I love the West-side]. And, please, don’t get me started on the word ghetto and where it originally derived from AND the misuse of this word! I kind of looked at him crazy, like, Is this dude serious? I continued to excuse his ignorant comments because I understood that he came from a very small town in Indiana, and I am sure there is very little to no diversity.
I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable, and I was frantically texting friends at around 1 or 2 a.m. But I could only get a hold of 2 or 3 guy friends who were still awake. I was asking one of my friends, a former ex, if he could come pick me up because I was feeling weird around David. And David kept trying to convince me to stay the night with him, and which I was like, “Hell No!” I didn’t know this guy and on top of that, he was making me feel very unsafe. Around this time his room mate returned, and one of the first things David said to him was, “Hey man, can you believe she has never dated a white guy before? She only dates Black guys!” I thought to myself, Why would he tell him that? Why does he keep bringing it up?! His room mate had a more dramatic reaction compared to David. He got a little huffy-puffy, asking why? I told him I have a valid reason. I told them both that in high school [in Jeffersonville, IN] I was maybe 1 of the 6 or 7 Latinos in the WHOLE school. And 4 of them were family! Other than that, everyone else was Black or white, with maybe an international exchange student here or there. The white boys paid me NO attention, so I assumed that I was not their type. I thought it was possible that white boys liked the skinny, white girls and that Latinas were too curvy…different. I also thought that maybe I intimidated them. So, I didn’t waste my time checking out white boys or trying to flirt with them. BUT, Black guys, they were a different story. Black guys were all over Latinas. They showed interest. And since they were the only ones that showed attraction, well, then that is the only choice I had! And I had no problem with it, because Black families and African-American culture is so similar to Latin culture, especially my family’s culture. I also told David’s room mate that I felt like I had nothing in common with white guys [and this is sincerely how I feel sometimes], but I realize that this can be a very ignorant statement. But, I cannot negate how I FEEL. He became upset and said that was “stupid” that it doesn’t matter about skin color when it comes to things in common [both true and false].
Then, maybe because he was infuriated or just to be as expressive as I was, he said, “Well, I hate dirty Mexicans.” My jaw dropped. Did I hear this guy correctly?, I thought. Wow. Now, remember, I did not make any racial comment about whites. I simply explained why I have never dated a white man. I said to him, “Excuse me?” And he replied, “Yeah, I hate dirty Mexicans.” I asked what he meant….and why he was calling Mexicans dirty. He explained that they look dirty, act like trash, etc. I was extremely offended! I said, “Yo, I am LATINA! How can you sit here and dog Mexicans? I’m Puerto Rican but it doesn’t matter, we are all the same. Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, whatever. We are Latinos. Hispanics.” Can you believe this guy tried to explain the DIFFERENCE between us? He said, “No, Hispanics are different than Mexicans. You have the Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Hispanics, and dirty Mexicans.” W-O-W. I felt so much emotion inside of me, but instead of fighting back his ignorance with ignorance or irrationality, I fought back with knowledge. I calmly explained to him that Mexicans ARE Latinos/Hispanics (and the general term depends on the individual). I even told him that there are non-Spanish speaking Latinos (i.e. Romanians, I believe?).
I turned to David and I told him I was ready to go home. He begged me to stay and I told him that I was not going to stay, that I was being disrespected. Then his room mate said something about me texting all night and how disrespectful that was. I looked up at him and I told him he was being disrespectful (or something to that degree) and he said, “Well, it’s my house, my rules.” And I replied, “You’re right. This is your house and I’m not going to disrespect you in your home, but you don’t have the right to disrespect me, regardless of where I am.” I looked back at David and I told him he needed to take me home before I smacked the shit out of his room mate. So, David asked his room mate if he could use his car to drop me off [remember, folks, David used his room mate’s car to pick me up too], and his room mate said, “Hell no.” [Or he might have said “fuck no.” I can’t remember.] I just looked at him with astonishment. Then, without trying to defend me, David proceeded to walk to his bedroom, LEAVING me in the living room with his room mate. I gathered my things, and walked to David’s room. I texted my ex again, pleading for him to come get me. I was so full of heat, anger, hurt, and so much more. I am an outsider.
I thought, This is the shit I still get? I’m so tired of being mistreated. I’m so tired of my people going thru this shit. David tried to get me to sit on his bed, calm me down and tried to convince me to stay. I remained standing, looked at him and told him there was no way I was staying in his apartment. I was near tears. I looked at him and I told him, “You have NO idea what it’s like. No idea. And you probably NEVER will and you know why? Because you’re fucking white. You have the ‘priveledge’. So don’t try to calm me down.”
Honestly, do you know what it is like?!? I haven’t faced discrimination in so long….the last time I remember a full-blown, face-frontal case of discrimination was in high school when my bus driver stopped the bus and told me and my two friends to stop speaking Spanish on her bus because we were making the other students “uncomfortable.” She told us we were in “their” country now and we need to speak “their” language! HELLO! I am AMERICAN! My first language is ENGLISH!!! So yes, when I get hit with ignorant statements and events like this, it takes so much strength to keep my composure.
My ex picked me up soon after, and yes, he is Black. Got a problem with it?
And once I got into his car, I felt my fear melt away and I felt my anger rise. David and his room mate had the audacity to ask me why I don’t date white guys. Well, their very own behavior answers their probing question.
*Realistically, I cannot remember our dialogue verbatim, but I generally remember what was said. However, nothing is exaggerated.
And, I am very aware that not all white men are ignorant. I happen to know some very intelligent white men, so I need all who reads this to understand that this entry is not about race-bashing. This is about trying to understand what it is like as a Latina. This is about trying to understand what I experienced. And of course, I am open to discussion.
~Paz y Amor~