Sometimes—particularly during the summer—people will speak to me in Spanish. Then they’ll see the blank look on my face and say, “You’re not Hispanic?”
I’m not. I’m Creole. I have skin that gets dark as toast when I’ve been out in the sun, and being in California, Latina is usually the first assumption.
I told my mother this and she laughed and told me a story I’d never heard before. Apparently when I was pretty young—too young to remember this anyway—we used to go to a laundromat that for whatever reason was connected to a Mexican restaurant. (For context: this was in Texas.) One day the woman from the restaurant began to scold my mother for dying my hair and trying to “pass” me as white. “You should be proud of her heritage!” the woman said.
You have to understand, I was very dark skinned but had white blonde hair. My hair was extremely fair up until I was about nine or ten years old, then became a darker blonde—”ash” or “dirty” as they sometimes call it. I dye it red now, in part because I always wanted auburn hair, and mostly to cover my gray. Besides, the red looks fantastic with my skin tone and makes the blue-green of my eyes pop.
Anyway, my mother had a difficult time convincing this restauranteur that she hadn’t dyed my hair, that I really had come that way naturally.
As for Spanish, having grown up in Texas I do know a few words, but I’m nothing like fluent or even passable. But if you need me to fuss and cluck in Creole French, I can do that.