On occasion, I've worked with people for years who are surprised to find out that I'm a Latino. Perhaps we're making small talk and I'll mention that my grandmother speaks only Spanish or that my last name has its roots in El Salvador or that I know what "puta" means (hey, it comes up). Then I'll get this strange look as if I've been hiding a secret life or pulling an especially egregious fast one on them.
"Are you Hispanic?" they'll ask in perplexity. And when I confirm it, they'll frown or shrug or cluck their tongues with the peevishness of the mildly deceived. They appear to want to follow up with "And when were you going to tell me this?"
It's not that they're closet racists. It's that their worldview has been altered abruptly. What have they believed to that point? I can't say for sure, but the thinking seems to be, "He's sort of white, but not really. He's clearly not black. If he's not one of those, but still does white-collar work, he must be Asian. Probably Japanese."
I had one co-worker who wanted to know if I had any female relatives I could fix him up with because, as he stated, "I'm into Asian girls." He was heartbroken to find out I could not help with his cause, so I refrained from pointing out how painfully common his fetish is among white men.
In a previous post, I commented on people's frequent insistence that I'm really Asian (it's ranged from comical to combative). But for now, let me return to my original point, which is that very few Latinos read Dilbert. That number is likely to go down even further in today's economic maelstrom.
In fact, the only other Hispanics I usually see in an office building are the guys mopping the floor, and they often give me quick, embarrassed smiles as if to say, "Sorry I don't make you prouder" or "Aren't you afraid they'll catch you impersonating a white guy?" Otherwise, we avoid eye-contact, because the Latino janitor is probably thinking that I look down upon him, while I'm super-conscious of the fact that I don't want to appear like I'm looking down upon him.
Perhaps I should engage in a moment of solidarity with him, or I can emphasize the importance of education so his children can go farther than he has, or we can snicker and say, "How about those Anglos, huh?" But we do none of this, because the class difference between us is vaster than the racial similarities that bond us. I feel that I should say something to the guy, but no words of wisdom, in either English or Spanish, arrive. So I keep walking, and I hit my cube, and he keeps scrubbing, and I'm sure that no one thinks for a moment that he is Asian.
This is an excerpt from Daniel Cubias's Huffington Post article "White-Collar Blues: A Continuing Lack of Diversity." Cubias writes about himself at his blog, The Hispanic Fanatic, that "he has an IQ of 380, the strength of twelve men, and can change the seasons just by waving his hand. Despite these powers, however, he remains a struggling writer. . . . the Hispanic Fanatic is a Latino male in his late thirties. He lives in a Midwestern city, where he works as a business writer. He was raised in another Midwestern city, but he has also lived in New York and California. He and his wife own a house where two cats and a dog call the shots."