The conversation was one I didn't know would happen, yet it had before.
Shortly after Paula Deen was unceremoniously booted from the Food Network, I got a tweet from a friend about the incident. Essentially, part of the conversation went like this:
She: "What did you expect from someone from the South?"
Me: "But I'm from the South. We're not all like that."
She: "But you're Latina."
This wasn't the first time I had heard this phrase being used to exempt me from a group. Essentially, being Latina is my get out of jail card to so many things. Yes, I do have dark skin and curly hair but the Latina part -- the part that has a last name ending in "z" and can speak two languages fluently -- that person gets a pass. It's as if for some of my hermanos y hermanas, one part of me, the Latina part, is worth more than the Afro part.
This happens more often than I'd like to admit publicly, and it doesn't matter how old or how educated -- to some, one side is worth more than the other.
The last time I had a similar conversation was when a friend spoke unkindly about Black people. She had called them cheap. She had sneered and was disgusted by them, their behavior in public places. They were all the same, every last one, she said.
But wait, we were in a circle of friends; we were all Latinas. Everyone of us could roll our tongues and speak Spanish. We were also all educated, graduates of the same university. We were professional women in our 20s. And yet...
"You know how they do," she said.
Then I cocked my head to the side. "But I'm one of them," I responded.
"No, you're one of us. You're Latina," she said.
I said nothing. I should have said something but I said nothing because of shock, disgust and sadness about the reality of being me. The truth is when the world sees me, they see a Black woman. But when my friends see me, they only see a fellow Latina.
So, then does being Latina exclude me from being black? In some circles, yes. However, that's not reciprocated.
Years later, another circle of women. We were all black, professional, mature, educated. It was a night of girl talk over drinks and dinner. We talked about the actors we found the most attractive. They all said men like Taye Diggs and Idris Elba. I said Eduardo Yañez. (I was really into Spanish soap operas at the time.)
The quiet lasted a minute before the conversation continued to another topic. We never spoke about that moment again.
I wasn't black enough for them; they said that without saying it. While my skin color and the texture of my hair made them comfortable. My Latina-ness reminded them I was different and that different people are not allowed to be Black. While this is probably not how they thought, that's how it felt to me, the odd person out.
Why, in this modern age, do I have to prove myself? Why do I have to prove my Blackness or my Latina heritage while denying the other exists? Being Afro-Latina doesn't exclude me from being everything else I am -- Black, Southerner, writer. Why should I have to chose to be one thing. That's what's so glorious about being a human being: the complexity of existence and the beauty of loving it all.
The fact is I love all of my selves and all the selves I have yet to discover. Choosing one would be denying pieces of myself, making me one dimensional and the writer in me knows how much of a bad deal that is.
It's interesting, this new way of passing. Where at one point passing was a color thing, for me it's a culture thing. I have to be Black enough for the Black folks and Latino enough for the brown folks. There's never a happy medium, adjustments are always made.
But frankly, I'm tired of adjusting.