Well, in so many words that’s what she meant. You can’t be Puerto Rican because you have dark skin. So here we go again and I’m not going to say she was racist…just pretty ignorant. Do folks really think Black people only live in the United States and Africa? I’m starting to believe that! Though we are in 2014, there is still a lot to be learned.
In my most recent experience at a printing shop the other day, a crazy conversation happened. I went there to enlarge family photos of my family members and me, which were taken in Puerto Rico. When I got to the cash register there was a white woman behind me looking at the photos, as she commented on how beautiful they were. My Puerto Rican family ranges in shades from white skin to dark skin, as reflected in the pictures. After complimenting me about the photos, she then asked what was I planning on doing with them. I turned to her and the cashier and said that they would be displayed at my new restaurant in a few weeks. She asked what kind of restaurant. I responded Puerto Rican. She then turned to me and softly whispered, “But you’re black! What type of food will you serve?” The cashier looked at me and I looked back at her and we both gave each other a blank stare. Then finally I said, “I’m a Black Puerto Rican.” She then said, “I’m sorry, I’m no racist.”
I thought to myself, ‘you may not be racist, just ignorant.’
I could have schooled her on the history of Blacks from Africa being brought to the Caribbean, South America, and other areas of the world as slaves; I could have explained that Puerto Rican ancestry includes a mixture of European, Taíno, and African blood; or I could have given her the link to my website. However, I just stood there and smiled at the cashier in disbelief, for I knew her ignorance could not handle the truth and I was truly caught off guard by her even feeling comfortable to ask me the question. Why not Google it?!
Perhaps I should have continued my conversation in Spanish. I bet that really would have shocked her. Unfortunately, she –like many others—doesn’t realize that wherever you go in the world, you may find persons of African heritage. Of course this would have been too much for her to comprehend at that moment, so I did not waste my time.
This incident also made me think, ‘what was her idea of what a Latina or Puerto Rican should look like?’ I’m sure that people of other multicultural backgrounds have experienced someone dismissing their heritage. What did you do?
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