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.

8 thoughts on “You Don’t Look Like a Vasquez

  1. I always like what you write. As I read this I understood why it sometimes feels like your words are thoughts I’ve had myself, though to be clear you are clearly your own person and I am my own person, but I say that because here’s the thing Alex, I didn’t grow up like everyone else (as you know) and so I’ve had trouble with my identity. I was born Amish like you know but then raised Mennonite without feeling like I ever completely fit into either one of those because they are quite different from each other. Now I’m in mainstream culture, right, but I’m not the white girl that I look like. I find bits and pieces within all kinds of cultures that feel like home to me but I never BELONG to any of them. I don’t fit in a box and it’s a relief to know that’s no one else’s business. I’m growing fond of finding out who I am and being really okay with that. I hope I never asked you if you look like a Vasquez and I can’t even remember ever thinking that to be honest. However, I put people in boxes all the time, my own boxes of understanding and reference. This whole point of seeing people for who they are and not needing to put them in a box is something I wish we would all do. Thank you for writing this. I know you already know this, but your words and perspective matter a lot.

    • I know this is something you relate well to given your background and experiences. We live in a world that has to label and categorize things in order to know how to deal with them. Everything is a part of some taxonomy. It’s a difficult cycle to break and I still do this myself.

      Ultimately, I just want to belong. Every time I hear that I don’t look a certain way or I’m asked why I am how I am It’s a reminder of how I don’t neatly fit in a box. I think that’s the case for so many of us; there’s more to a person’s story than their many labels.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. And you’ve never said that to me, fyi. =)

  2. Honestly if any fucking idiot says this to you in front of me I’m gonna break their jaw after saying, “You don’t look like an idiot, but HERE WE FUCKING ARE”.

  3. You had me at tamales. I’ve always appreciated who you are as a person though your first name kinda threw me at first. Great article. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *