I’ve been told I don’t look Mexican.
I suppose I don’t carry many of the characteristics that come to mind when one thinks of the physical attributes of our cousins south of the border. Usually when one thinks “Mexican” one thinks of any of the following traits: tan skin, dark eyes and hair, probably on the shorter side, Mexicans are not known for being particularly thin or large when it comes to body types, and I could go on.
As for myself, I have the dark eyes and hair but definitely not the tan skin. I’m not tall but not all that short. On the occasion we’d stop by the Calimax in Tijuana I felt like I could be on the Olympic basketball team. When people do take a stab at guess where my forefathers come from I typically get guess from the Mediterranean like Italian or Turkish or Israeli. I’ve gotten many countries from South America, the Caribbean and even the generic “white”.
Perhaps I don’t carry many of the stereotypical traits, I’m no Eric Estrada or Don Francisco, but then neither is Linda Carter (and Wonder Woman just happens to be half Mexican). I’ve touched on the many influences on Mexican people plenty of times before when it comes to food and celebration but not the physical traits of the people. What is a Mexican supposed to look like?
This is who I am
My closest friends, like me, are the children of Mexican immigrants. One of them has skin that, while not as light as mine, is still pretty fair. He’s 6’3”. The other is about my height but has reddish brown hair almost as red as his mother’s who also happens to have green eyes.
Anyone remember that show Gilmore Girls? The girl who plays the daughter, Alexis Bledel, is a very fair skinned young woman has very very blue eyes. These are just a few examples of different Mexicans can appear. We could be that blond haired dude with the green eyes. We could be that guy with the dreadlocks who might be black (that’s actually my cousin Eddie). We could be in your kitchen right now!
So where do all these different looks come from? All over! Obviously there were the indigenous people who already lived what we call Mexico and the western United States all the way down through South America. These were different cultures with their own varied physical traits and aspects and are the reason I can barely grow facial hair today. Without getting in a big demographic and anthropological analysis I can say that these indigenous peoples greatly influenced the idea of what a prototypical Mexican is supposed to look like.
Since it is Spanish that is mostly spoken in Mexico (each of the specific native groups still thriving in Mexico has their own language) we tend to only think of people from Spain who colonized the land. When they decided to go native, akin to John Rolfe and Pocahontas, we called their progeny “mestizos”. The word is derived from the Latin word for “mixed” but its use was synonymous with calling someone a bastard. The connotation of the word has changed since then and now simply refers to one who is of both European and native ancestry.
Spanish are not Mexicans
Even when we look at the Spanish we can clearly see that they do not look Mexican. For all intents and purposes they are white, Europeans. That just leads to more and more lines of ancestry as Spain was at various times dominated by Jews, Moors, Romans etc… A not uncommon Mexican last name is Delao (or De La O) which comes from the Irish who came to Mexico. There were Germans, Portuguese, and even Chinese who traveled south from San Francisco once the railroads were built. If America is a melting pot then Mexico is a thick soup. I like to think of it as a nice fondue set filled with nacho cheese.
Anyway, Mexicans clearly come in all shapes and sizes, shades and colors. We’re not just tan and exotic looking like Selma Hayek, we’re also svelte and fair like Alexis Bledel. But we can also be exactly what you think. Like Paul Rodriguez.
This post was originally published in HispanicLA.com.