It happened in Denmark. It happened in Austria. It happened twice in Serbia. “Is your family from India?” One time I even got “I could’ve sworn you were a Paki.” It doesn’t bother me, it’s just a curious question that I haven’t really been asked before. Back in the States I’ve heard people say that some Caribbean Latin@s could pass for being Arabic, but Indian was new.
When asked these questions, I was always happy to talk about my family’s heritage. Both of my parents are Puerto Rican, and between them and my siblings, we come in all the colors of the ethnic rainbow. Some Latin@s have blond hair and blue eyes, while others have distinctly African features. The beauty of Latin American culture is that it is a mix of Indigenous, African, and European influence. I assume in Europe it would be easier to racially categorize those who fall along the extremities. However, for Latin@s with olive skin and African or indigenous facial features, the categorization gets a little trickier.
From the discussions I’ve had during the past few months, I’ve learned that the European racial lens is shaped largely by immigration from South Asia and the Muslim world, which includes Africa. With the exception of Spain, Latin Americans have not been an influential actor in Europe’s racial and immigrant history. Therefore in a European lens, I am seen as belonging to either the Roma or Southern Asia.
One funny conversation I had about my ethnicity was with a recent acquaintance in Belgrade:
So, where are you from?
No, I knew that. I mean where are your parents from.
Come on man, I know you’re not reaaalllyyy American.
Except the thing is, whichever way you frame it, I am. My family has never been immigrants. Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth, and it’s been a territory of the United States since 1898.
Learning about race is like taking a bar exam; you have to start all over every time you go somewhere new.