I’ve been thinking about what it means to write characters of color, and what it means to be a writer of color. I’m in a place where I’m trying to understand where, and if, I fit.
My surname is hard to pronounce if you’re not from a country where Spanish is spoken. Hell, even my teachers in LA often got it wrong. And it’s long enough that with my first name, one of them often got cut off on ID cards and such. Sometimes I was Victor.
Being mixed race is easier when you look white. And I do. I have thick hair, but that’s about all that marks me as Latina. I was still harassed in school occasionally when people heard my last name, but more often than not, it wasn’t long before they forgot.
Except…I feel Latina. I like being Mexican. I like the culture, I like the food, I like the emphasis on family, I love the language. But…
I also grew up socially White. I didn’t face the same barriers many Latina women do because of stereotypes and prejudices, and I admit to feeling guilty about that. I’ve enjoyed an amount of privilege because of my fair skin and blonde hair, though I certainly never hid my background. And I’m distanced from really being a part of the Mexican culture because I didn’t fully grow up in it.
I think there are probably many people like me, who feel a little bit rootless. From two cultures but not entirely a part of either. So can I call myself a writer of color? Are genetics enough, or do I have to have had the lived experiences too? I write under a pen name I chose for specific reasons; is that an erasure of my Latina identity?
As writers, I believe we tell stories of humans, and remembering that there are humans of every shade is important. When I wrote a Mexican-Haitian character in my second book, she felt very real to me, and I love her. But I wonder how readers envisaged her? Did I do her justice? It’s an incredibly important question and one I don’t know the answer to.
I don’t have an answer to these questions yet, but somehow it feels important to keep wrestling with them.