Hello, friends. I would like to tell you the story of the time I walked out of a wedding reception dinner because, had I not, I probably would've ended up cussing out an 80-year-old white woman I just met.
A couple years ago, my boyfriend and I attended his cousin's wedding. The wedding was in Colorado, and we live in Washington state, so we ended up flying to Colorado and staying with my boyfriend's aunt, uncle, and mother in a swanky cabin in the woods that the aunt and uncle owned. I was already feeling nervous and out of place because Aunt and Uncle are wealthy as fuck, and (my mother has cleaned rich people's houses for as long as I've known her) I have had... less than stellar experiences with rich white people.
We didn't get to the cabin until late at night, so beyond introductions there wasn't much conversation. The next morning, as I sipped my coffee on the balcony and fed a chipmunk crackers, Aunt sat in one of the chairs and started chatting with me. Eventually she asked what my last name was, and after I told her she said, "That's interesting. Is that... Italian?"
I braced myself and stared into my coffee mug. "No," I said, "It's Spanish."
"Ah!" was all she said.
I waited, and after a few seconds of silence I relaxed. Awesome, I thought. No interrogation this time!
Looking back, I understand that she didn't need to interrogate me — she learned everything about me (or, at least, everything she thought she knew about me) by asking me what my last name is. As soon as I said "Spanish" her brain filled in the blanks and there was no need to ask me any other questions.
Later, at the wedding, Aunt and I huddled under an umbrella. The rain started halfway through the outdoors ceremony but everyone was so happy that it hardly mattered. After the prayer, I whispered, "Is that it? That was really short."
Aunt whispered back, "These weddings aren't nearly as long as Catholic weddings."
"Oh, I've never been to a Catholic wedding," I said.
She looked over at me, puzzled, and said, "You haven't? I thought you were..." she paused, then finished, even quieter, "Hispanic-Catholic."
I looked back at her, confused, and whispered, "No. I grew up a Jehovah's Witness."
She gave me another look, like she'd known me for years and I'd been lying to her the whole time about how I was devoutly "Hispanic-Catholic" and had chosen this moment to come clean with her.
As dense as I am sometimes, I started catching on right about then.
At the reception, my boyfriend, his mother, Aunt, Uncle, and I sat at the same table. Aunt had informed me earlier that the groom's family was Mexican-American. As we waited for our turn to line up at the buffet, Aunt — eyes glistening, tone conspiratorial — told me the groom's story. Half his family didn't show up to the wedding, she explained, because he signed up to be a policeman, and his family is mostly gang members. But not him, she went on. He's a good man.
One of the good ones? I wanted to snap at her, but I didn't.
Our table was finally called to sidle up to the buffet. Aunt described the food to me as "tacos and burritos!" It was the typical Americanized version of what Mexican food is assumed to be. We sat back down, and as I picked at my rice, Aunt locked eyes with me and asked, "Do you cook like this?"
I froze. Fork in hand, I said, "What?"
Aunt leaned closer, raised her voice and slowed her speech down. "Do - you - cook - like - this?"
That moment, right there, was the moment the white hot rage curtain descended and clouded my vision, and I became certain that I was about to leap across the table and do something that would land me in jail if not prison.
Instead, I said, "No. I don't. Excuse me," and set down my fork. I left the dinner and walked around the area for a long time, shaking with anger, face burning. I didn't come back until I ran into my boyfriend, trying to find me, maybe 45 minutes later. And even then we only went back to grab my purse.
He told me that his aunt was worried about why I had been gone for so long, maybe she offended me, and he just told her, "roma isn't Mexican..." Which is... Well I guess he said something. Sigh. We ditched the party, bought some whiskey and got plastered in the woods, chilled with a coyote, or a wolf.
My name is my name. It is not a method for anyone to assume anything about me. If I just met you, and I told you my name, you know my name, NOTHING ELSE. Also, don't ask. Don't ask "what" my name "is", don't ask "what" I "am", don't ask where my ancestors are from and don't ask what race or ethnicity or nationality or what specific kind of brown person I am so you can be surprised when I don't fit your stereotype because I am over that shit.
I am a person. If you have to, pretend that PoC have the luxury of being individuals.
Like white people!