You Don’t Look Like a Vasquez

I’m Alex. The last name is Vasquez. I’m part white, and I’m part Mexican. I have red hair, and I’m six-foot-four.

I look about as Mexican as a taco salad.

I’m proud of who I am and what I am. I could stop right there and move along. But I’m not going to because where is the fun in that?

I’m tall, and I say wickedly funny (and often shitty) things and typically at the worst possible times, like that time I told a woman she had a nice box (she was holding a box, though!), her boss was not amused, but I digress.

The thing I get a lot of and have for my entire life, is: “You don’t look like a Mexican/Vasquez/Hispanic.” I don’t look like what I am. I used to feel like that was something I needed to apologize for. Good sir or ma’am, I’m genuinely sorry that I do not look like what it was you were expecting me to look like given my name.

I’m assuming that when people hear a Hispanic surname, they immediately think about Mexicans and then what they think about what a Mexican ought to look like. They have some ideas. Don’t worry you’re not alone! Google has some ideas, too!

Not a single stereotype to be seen here, folks.

and that’s a form of bias. And, yes, I know, I know, not all people think of Hispanics and Mexicans in this manner. In and of itself, to me, it’s harmless; rather, I do not think that people who wonder about my looks and surname have ill-intent in pointing out how I’m different from what they expect.

I’m just really tired of the feeling of having to explain myself. So from here on out, I’m not going to because I don’t have to. If someone does not fit inside a person’s frame of reference that’s their problem, it should never be yours.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve had the name Vasquez. It’s my Mother’s maiden name. Why I use Vasquez instead of my Father’s surname just isn’t any of your business. So stop asking! =)

As a child, I was embarrassed by my name. I was embarrassed because teachers when they would see me the first time, would ask me “Well, how did you get that name?” And I’m over there like ¯_(ツ)_/¯. Substitutes would ask that question without fail, too. Because of how often I was asked and probed about my looks I felt insecure about my name. It wasn’t Smith or Stevens or something white, that would make sense given my physical features. So I grew up being at odds with my identity.

Over the years, as my confidence grew and I grew into the rest of my body, the question didn’t bother me as much. I had an answer that I rolled with, something in the back pocket at the ready—I was coping with my inconvenient truth.

The thing is, it wasn’t just white people who made this observation, that I didn’t look like a Vasquez. I should note this isn’t a Dear White People post because I get this shit from everybody of every color; heck it was even people in my own family; it was also other Mexicans telling me that I wasn’t a Mexican.

I get called out for not being Mexican enough pretty much weekly. I had a date last weekend, and my date casually rattled off “You don’t look like a Vasquez.” She’s a woke college-educated white woman. She should know better. She didn’t. Another friend once told me, “You’re not a real Mexican” after I related how my family made tamales, too. She asked, “Do you speak Spanish?” I replied, “No” and then she said, “Oh, then you’re not a real Mexican.” Even people in my own family would tell me, “You’re not a real Mexican. You’re not one of us.” As a kid, I already knew I was different from my family that I grew up with, and I wanted to do anything to be more like them. One of my relatives would say, “Hey, Al, if you eat this Jalapeño you’ll become a Mexican eventually. But you better not cry or bitch about it!” And so I began eating Jalapeños, a lot of them. It didn’t change the color of my skin or my hair; it didn’t help me with speaking Spanish either. It did, however, support my digestive system in the most painful ways possible. I enjoy Jalapeños these days but I do so on the premise that consuming them would make me more of a Mexican. I’m reminded of that fact often, and it’s something I’ve had to put to rest.

While at a party, a guy overheard my name and said to me (can you guess what it is?): “Hey, you don’t look like a Vasquez.” I was drunk and way too high from eating edibles earlier in the evening, when I replied, “Hey, you’re right! Please go find me a Vasquez-looking person and when you do bring them back here so we can see what a Vasquez should look like!” The gentleman took a sip, gave a quick nod and then surveyed the room, looking for a Vasquez; surely there was someone who looked like a Vasquez in a room full of humanity. A few moments later, he returned his gaze to mine and offered, “I wasn’t supposed to do that, was I?” I smiled and said, “No, but it’s okay.” We both laughed and went on with life.

I am Mexican and I am white (with a whole lot of other whiteness mixed in). I get to be both. I’m proud of who I am and what I am. My Mexican family raised me, I was raised on that food, and I was raised on a great many traditions of Hispanic culture, and I have been loved that culture and accepted into it. Even though I am unmistakably white looking, a Gringo, I do identify more with my Hispanic heritage because it’s been a part of me from day one. I don’t loathe the white part of me, that side is a part of me, too, and I love who I am (and so do a lot of others).

Can I say that I’m tired?

I’m tired of telling you people why I look like the kind of Vasquez that I look like.

I’m tired of having you people point out how white I look and how I don’t look like a Mexican at all.

I’m tired of you asking me if I speak Spanish. I don’t. I wish I did so I knew when my Grandparents were talking shit about the rest of my family or me.

I’m tired of explaining to you why I don’t use my Father’s surname.

I’m tired of you telling me I’m not a real Mexican.

I’m tired of your questions because I don’t fit your frame of reference.

I’m tired of your shit, and I’m just really tired. Okay?

Your confusion is not my cross to bear. I’m not confused about who I am. If you are then, that’s on you.

I want to let you all know that I’m not mad about it; I don’t look at this as yet one more way Americans suck. No, it’s not that at all. We all have biases. I have them, too, and some I don’t even know I have. Being a human in the world is a complex thing; it’s a hard thing to be and it’s even harder to do well. But if we can check-in on these momentary lapses and understand them and then own them we’ll get on the right track!

The good news is that I believe in you—I believe in us! And we can do better together.

How can you help?

I mean, just stop doing the above. That would be great! But if you must—

Ask yourself: “Is it really important that I know the answer to this question?” Can I just be a white-looking guy with a Hispanic last name? Will that destroy your reality? If we get to know each other well enough I’ll tell you the story, I promise!

Should you decide that you still want the answer then there are other ways to go about getting the information you seek!

Ask me about my family. I’ll probably tell you that I was raised by a single mom and that my dad wasn’t in the picture. I’ll probably even bring up the Vasquez-name thing, too!

Ask me how I grew up! Surely, I’ll tell you holiday stories and memories. I’ll probably tell you about my great uncles, who, in my eyes were these amazing Chicano giants. Maybe I’ll tell you about my Grandfather, who is one of the hardest working men I ever knew. Just maybe I’ll tell you about my Grandmother, who grew up working in grape vineyards in Old Cucamonga, with her brothers and sisters—she was eclectic, well-read, well-spoken, and hilarious. And perhaps I’ll tell you about my mother, who kept a roof over my head and made sure I was taken care of always.

I’m not alone. There is no shortage of mixed-race folks in this country. It’s a diverse place! So if you see someone who doesn’t look the way you think they should ask yourself what they should look like and ask why it’s an important observation to you. Try to understand the why.

I embody the Mexicans I grew up with in some way or another, maybe it’s my Nana’s artistic pursuits that I carry, perhaps it’s my Grandfather’s grit or my Mother’s we’re going to make this work no matter what attitude. I’m a Mexican through and through and I’m proud of that heritage and that identity.

Lastly, this shit is hard. I know it is! I’m going to drop a Tweet here that I think sums up really nicely how I feel about all of this.

Birthday

It’s my birthday. Today I’m forty-one or, as I like to put it “forty-fun.” It’s a good bit older than I thought I’d make it. Stupid stunts, drugs, and over much alcohol consumption couldn’t bring me down. I’m still here.

I do a thing on the morning of my birthday. It’s an odd thing but I head over to Diego Goldberg’s website to look at his Arrow of Time. No doubt you’ve seen it or read about it somewhere (link).

Why? I don’t really know. Time is persistent and it’s always moving and pulling us along for the ride irrespective of what we do. Each year the family gets a year older, a year shabbier, and, really, just another year closer to what happens next. I guess it’s comforting knowing or seeing other people go through this stuff, too.

***

My friend Lizz asked me my own question, So what did you lesson did you learn this past year? I told her to instantly shut her flavor hole with such questions! But actually, that didn’t happen because she terrifies me.

I knew the answer immediately. Sometimes success happens as a result of not quitting and not so much actual skill. Sometimes. When I was twenty I don’t think I’d had guessed I’d own a small business and work for myself. But I do.

I’m grateful for what I have and for those things that I do not have I’m learning that it’s okay not to have them.

***

How does one celebrate my birthday? Well, just so you know, there are two days I celebrate. One is my birthday and the other day is April 5th, my name day.  Both can be enjoyed in the same way!

How to celebrate my birthday without me

  • No gifts, please. Instead, donate to a charity. Solving homelessness and drug rehabilitation are two causes that are important to me.
  • Find a wine (likely a Pinot Noir) from the Willamette Valley and drink it.
  • Find a good beer from a brewery in Salem, Or. Anthem Cider is produced in Salem if you want a really good cider.
  • Eat cherries! Lots and lots of cherries!! Rainier cherries are preferred by me.
  • Take a photo of yourself wearing a Portland Trailblazer’s jersey and send it to me.
  • Tell someone that they’re awesome.

Some of my favorite people and some places from my big day…

Guess My Age

I remember my first flight that I took by myself. I think I might have been seven or eight years old at the time, somewhere around 1984. I remember it well, it was magical. I felt special. I had the attention of airline staff guiding me right up to the plane, but not before getting a cup of hot chocolate!

I was guided to my aisle seat. I recall sitting next to a pleasant woman. She was taken by my fiery red-headed ringlets. She complimented my hair and asked to touch my hair. I remember being okay with that if a little embarrassed. Random female strangers, along with the women in my family, would constantly grab at my hair or my cheeks (the ones on my face, people). It was always a little embarrassing. I’ve always been fond of attention, even if it’s embarrassing.

The nice lady asked me question after question when she asked me, “Well, haven’t you got anything you want to know about me?” I was dense as a little kid (I’m still just as dense as an adult) and shrugged my little shoulders. She asked me, “How old do you think I am?” Now that, I recall, seemed like a fun and interesting question—I had no idea what sort of shit-starter such a question would be at that time obviously. It didn’t take me long to blurt out “62!!!” The nice lady’s smile disappeared from her face, like the receding waters of the ocean. She looked ahead, pursed her lips, visibly annoyed, and said, “I’m forty! And a bit of advice, you should always guess younger than you think that person is.”

She promptly opened up a book she brought on board with her and dove into it. She didn’t talk to me again until we landed for her connecting flight.

Even as a young fella, I was always charming people.

***

The concept of time is interesting, isn’t it? We don’t know how much of it we’ve got. As a child, I had no concept of time; I didn’t know what it meant except that bed time was 8 pm for me. Now, a few decades older, time has a different meaning. There’s not a lot of it for any of us. I’m aware of time’s watchful eye but I ignore it yet it always keeps track, tallies up every micro-moment and second like a stubborn choppy river, it keeps on moving.

We’re all fugitives of time’s long reach. It can be unnerving but also comforting in its constancy.

Insult someone you know by telling them they look older than they are today.

 

Connecting Dots

I had an awesome time at WordCamp SF this past week. I learned a lot and connected with some amazing folks. But I came away with some ‘Deep Thoughts,’ Jack Handy style… This camp got me thinking and inspired in a way that I hadn’t felt since my first WordCamp.

October 2013 this seemingly agitated fella, Derek Neighbors, gives a talk at Pressnomics. The one thing he asked: “What, as a community, have we done with our market share and influence to make the world a better place?” This question rubbed some folks the wrong way; confused some (like me) and got some folks nodding in agreement. It sounded nice, but a challenge without direction is tough to digest… This talk was never too far from memory from that moment on. I often wondered how the talk applied to me…

December 2013, WordCamp Las Vegas, a guy known in the community as “Accessible” Joe gives an impassioned talk about accessibility and the web. It’s a talk that he’s given in some form before… It’s also one of the first times I began to think about accessibility in the work I did.

October 2014, WordCamp San Francisco; Matt Mullenweg gives his annual ‘State of the Word’ address to a packed in-house audience and countless others watching from elsewhere in the world. Mullenweg shares challenges, motivations and accomplishments. He also provides the fact that WordPress continues to grow in usage as it now powers 23.2% of the web. That figure is staggering; one in every five or six sites you see are running good ol’ WP.

The WCSF Community Summit. I can’t say much about the Summit since we’re supposed to keep specifics to a minimum. What I can say is that it was a privilege to be in attendance. Thanks go to Jen Mylo for that.

But it also got me thinking about something else…

Being more than the 23.2%

I’m not sure how much I can share, so I can’t be too detailed here. What I can tell you is that a quick exchange between a pair of contributors caused me to have an “aha moment.”

The exchange came down to this notion: Yes, WordPress is a leader, with its market share and overall usage. BUT leading in market share alone does not make you a leader…”

Basically every discussion I participated in at the Community Summit came down to this notion that numbers don’t always matter; cold-hard facts don’t always matter; action matters; what we set ourselves out to do and how that helps others is what matters. Popularity is nice, but it doesn’t do much for the world around us. Does it? No. There are ways we can take action, use this acquired influence and knowledge to make things happen.

This goes for connecting with our tech neighbors in the community, such as the PHP, jQuery and Ruby groups as an example; this extends to not just inviting other groups to join our community, but to step out and join theirs, too. We also need to consider how to make this WordPress thing and all it touches accessible to people of all walks of life, native tongues and abilities. What good is a product’s market share if it can’t bring everyone along for the ride? Yes, it’s a big idea, but I think it’s one worth working toward.

That said, I know that there’s already countless things that have been done and have been worked on to help those around us. I’ve been a part of a couple of these things in the post couple years, having attended a GiveCamp and Website Weekend LA. That said, I know I can do a little more. I think we all can.

Obviously, I’ve been trapped in my head the last 24 hours. Inspired, really and thinking about how I’ll make a contribution. I’m going to start small. I’m going to start with my starter theme and making it accessible and re-submitting on .org. And then I’ll write about that. So there’s that. Beyond that, I’ve got some thinking and planning to do.

What will you do?

The Struggle of Being Nice to Yourself

I have a site with a domain “Alex Has Nice Hair.” It’s tongue-in-cheek, sure… Actually, no; I have great fucking hair. It’s that fucking nice! Okay? But seriously, one would think that I would be nice to myself.

But I’m not.

The clichè that we’re our own worst critic is true. However, I’ve somehow taken this concept to new and exciting heights and one might even say I’ve made a national sport of it…

Let’s start with the basics. Am I happy? Yes. I am happy. But… Oh that BUT! That fucking “but!” It’s that but that gets me locked inside my own head. Each time I get to this point where I’m having to say “Dude, lay off yourself buddy. You’re doing what you can” I get frustrated because I should know better. But I forget that I do and so I beat on myself.

I was having breakfast with my buddy, Chris Tolar, and he gave me some encouragement and a reminder that I’m doing pretty damn okay. I don’t know why it sounds better when these words come from someone else, I imagine it’s for the same reason a sandwich tastes better when someone else makes it for you (except if it’s from Subway).

I’m not the only one who struggles with being nice to oneself either. Lots of us are in that boat, too. And we forget that we’re happy; we redefine happiness by ridiculous measures, often comparing ourselves to others. One of the simplest traps to get caught in; yet we do it on a “wash, rinse and repeat” cycle. I don’t think it’s for a lack of self-love or self-worth… I truly think we simply forget to be happy; we forget that we are pretty fucking great.

I heeded the kind words from Chris; and heeded more kind words from my gal, Melissa, too. I held onto these words and I really, really tried to hear them and get what the words meant and I tried to remember. Yes, I am happy… And a number of reasons why I am happy and that I shouldn’t be such a dick to myself.

Going full-time freelance has been scary, hard and great. Running my first marathon was hard, scary and great, meeting someone new and slowly letting them in has been… Well, you get the pattern by now, don’t you?

Day in and day out you’re probably working on someone hard and you probably don’t always have the answers. Many other days you probably feel like a hack; you probably feel like a poopy-flavored popsicle stick which, as we all know, is the most useless flavor of them all!

An old friend of mine, Seth Perles, once said to me: Brother, “assume competence.” You can translate that “fake it until you make it.” Often we’re in this place of assuming competence; of finding our way when we don’t know what direction to go. We don’t have the answers yet each day, we find a way around or through these challenges, or we don’t; we ask for help, gather a brain trust and we “figure that shit out.” And when you do “figure it out” don’t harp on the fact that maybe you couldn’t have done it on your own; focus on the fact that you realized two or more brains were better than just your one. Focus on the fact you had the strength to say “hey, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t fucking know.” Because you know what? That is hard to do. It’s okay, buddy. We’ve all been there, several times… Daily, even. Just be nice to yourself.

Lastly, can you and I make a pact? Just between us, okay; let’s not look to others and try to define our successes and failures by what others have done or are doing. Let’s keep it focused on what we’re doing and where we’re going. I’m fortunate to know a lot of friends who are great at what they do and experience a large amount of success doing what they do. These folks have been at it twenty years; ten years and more, some less. That’s great. Learn from them what you can, they have some great advice to give you. Please remember, most importantly, to be nice to yourself; if you keep working hard good things will happen, but you gotta keep working and while you’re doing all that working and hustling, be sure to pat yourself on the shoulder once in a while and crack open a beer and salute yourself.

Okay, my work here is done. I’ll make you a promise. You keep being nice to yourself; if I catch you slipping up on that, I’ll remind you. But, please, be sure to do the same for me. I’m the World Champion of self-deprecation. Thanks!

Trinkets n Stuff

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Stationery shops always make me think of my late grandmother… She’d take me into Stockwell and Binney, in Ontario, as a kid. Whenever I see a stationery I buy something… Usually pens pencils. Always puts a smile on my face.

Two Years in the Making…

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All I know is that whatever brought me here started two years ago.

All I know is that tomorrow I finish what I started…

To everyone who’s been there for me through all of this; this journey…

Words fail me… Just thank you. For everything.