STARTING A SUPPORT GROUP CALLED “GUEROS ANONYMOUS.”
I’ve sometimes thought about starting a semi-secret organization, complete with decoder rings and speakeasy-like murmured passwords. I’ve fantasized about starting an organization called “Gueros Anonymous.” Or maybe “Gueros Unidos”. Or maybe “Rubios Are Us.” I’d be the founding member. It would be a kind of fraternal organization made up of light-skinned Mexicans like me. Acclaimed artist Barbara Carrasco could be in it. Chingón Chicano writer Luís Urrea could be in it. My friend Yolanda Garcia, a nationally respected big time educator, could be in it. The possibilities for membership are huge, greater than you might think.
We’d have a kind of Pledge of Allegiance to the Raza and maybe even a theme song and a mascot. Maybe some sort of secret handshake. What we’d have in common is that all of our adult lives we’ve fought for justice, supported raza arts, music and culture and – this is the key requirement for admission to the group – we’ve often been looked at quizzically and sometimes critically by more “typically-looking” mexicanos and Chicanos. You know, the more morenos and trigueños among us. “Are you really a Mexican?” they sometimes ask. Sometimes they ask silently with their raised eyebrows and near-sneers. Eventually they get around to asking out loud. “Que te importa” is an answer that comes to mind for me sometimes. But usually we gueros answer much more politely as reason and understanding eventually take hold. Please, no jokes about “every family has a guero in the woodpile.”
But I must tell you it’s always been a bit annoying to have your “authenticity” somehow challenged, just because you’re a rubio. It’s about culture NOT color.
When I was in graduate school at Columbia University in New York I had a colleague who understood that well. And he wasn’t even Chicano. He was more light-skinned than I (and let me tell you, I’ve been mistaken for German, Polish, Italian – even Scandinavian). The brother was African American. The “gueroist” negro you are ever likely to see. We used to joke together about being a Stealth Mexican or a Stealth Black, sharing experiences about when we innocently infiltrated gatherings of white folks. Let’s face it, whether you’re in a bank, in a courtroom or a business or professional meeting, chances are you will be surrounded by those of the Caucasian persuasion.
Throughout my life I’ve had encounters where I’m in a group of strangers and they start going on and on about “lazy Mexicans” and “dirty Mexicans” and that kind of pendejada. At first, nomás los oigo. They assume I’m white and one of them. As a stealth Mexican I hear lots of stuff like that. Then – ta da! – I reveal that I’m a Chicano, one of “them.” Their reactions would be hysterically funny if they weren’t so tragic. My African American colleague in graduate school shared similar experiences with me.
We got to hear lots of unfiltered talk from gringos about Mexicans and African Americans. It was like having a hidden microphone at a Klan meeting. Or at a PTA meeting, for that matter.
Gringos scramble to backtrack and spout things such as, “But you’re different.” Yeah, sure.” It’s about culture, not color. (Okay, I don’t have a good explanation for all the rubia modelo-types on Televisa and Univision. But that’s another discussion.)
I was lucky going through public elementary school and high school. Lucky in the sense that I happened to like reading and writing – and studying. The library was a sanctuary to me. School was not terrifying and it wasn’t an entirely hostile place for me. It wasn’t the torture chamber that it was for a lot of chicanitos. Teachers noticed that I enjoyed schoolwork and encouraged me. I’m grateful for that. But I can’t help but thinking I was also lucky, given that social context, in that I was a guero. I think it’s possible white teachers somehow thought I had more on the ball BECAUSE I wasn’t a dark-skinned or indio-looking kid. Who knows?
But I don’t think it was a coincidence that a lot of stereotypical looking mexicanos in my public school classes, especially recent immigrants, were a little less likely to get the encouragement from teachers that I did. It’s all about expectations. Study after study has shown that students rise to the level of the expectations of the teachers. If teachers don’t assume you have potential, for whatever reason including appearance, they won’t work very diligently to help students develop that potential. It all becomes a kind of perverse self-fulfilling prophecy.
I once wrote an op-ed essay for the L.A. Times about the stupidity of identifying criminal suspects in the news media as “Hispanic.” What the hell does that tell you about the appearance of a guy out on the street who the cops are looking for? A “Hispanic” can be as blond as Christina Aguilera, as indio as Danny Trejo, as African tinged as wild-and-crazy former Dodger Manny Ramirez. The word “Hispanic” doesn’t tell you a darn thing, when it comes to appearance. It’s meaningless. We are a double-helix arco iris when it comes to appearance.My family is half moreno and half guero, for example. It’s about culture and frame of reference, not color nor physical appearance.
And it isn’t just gringos who make assumptions about you and tailor their behavior toward you based on those assumptions. Back in the Pleistocene in undergraduate school Chicano “student leaders” with Zapata mustaches and fortified with viva la raza steroids would look askance at Chicano students who fell into the guero category. That nonsense would melt away after our “authenticity” was proven. But those first impressions were always very interesting, and telling, to me. It’s not about color it’s about culture. And experience and frame of reference.
By the way, most of those with Zapata mustaches were men.
I was born and raised on L.A.’s eastside. My parents came from pueblitos in the state of Chihuahua. I learned to speak Spanish and English simultaneously because I had older brothers and sisters who had survived the trauma of only speaking Spanish in Kindergarten – and being punished for it. And language has become a kind of litmus test for some, especially during the heady days of the Chicano Movement. Some poor Chicanos couldn’t speak Spanish very well, and they were snubbed by Chicano student “leaders” whose Spanish was solid. Tonterias. But somehow most of us reconciled these issues long ago.
Unfortunately, the “you can’t be Mexican because you’re so fair-skinned” mythology still persists to a degree. On the part of gringos and Chicanos. Somehow gueros are seen as individuals who “can’t be Mexican enough.” Tonterias. Hey, tell that to beautiful fair-skinned redheaded Mexican Rita Hayworth, whose actual name was Margarita Carmen Cancino. I would offer her a posthumous honored membership in this new organization I’m thinking of starting called Gueros Anonymous or Gueros Unidos or maybe …Wanna be a member?
Copyright 2013 by Luis R. Torres