“Habla Espanol?” I was asked the other day.
I always give the same answer.
“Un poquito.” (“a little”)
It still surprises me when I get this question, because you see, to most people, they only see my fair skin. Only those of Mexican descent seem to sniff me out.
“You are Hispanic, aren’t you?” A young woman asked me.
Shocked, I nodded. “Yes, how did you know?”
“I know my people,” she said confidently.
I was born a Carlos Murphy. I am part Mexican, part Irish and other things white. But all this really means is that I can celebrate Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day. With genes like mine I should be a devoted Catholic with a drinking problem. But I’m not.
As far as showing any true signs of “mex-nicity”, I cannot tell a lie. You see I wasn’t really raised en el barrio. I was raised in a two-story house with a swimming pool.
I’ve never been to a quinceanera, I didn’t grow up eating mole, and, much to my boss’s, (Senorita Torres) horror, I have never had a tres leche cake before. She learned this soon after she hired me.
“You have never had a tres leche cake?” She gasped.
“You are such a white Mexican!” She declared.
“Do you subscribe to Latina magazine?” She prodded.
“You are such a white Mexican!” She repeated.
“Do you want my latest copy of Latina magazine?” She tried again.
“No.” I decided.
“Theresa, you are such a white Mexican!”
What can I say? It was my great grandparents that came to this country from Mexico. Mi familia has been in the Estados Unidos for quite some time.
And it shows.
My grandmother was born in Southern California and learned English in elementary school. Her family moved to the Bay Area where she met my grandfather, also of Mexican descent. They got married and then did something totally illegal and against Mexican law.
They only had one child. My mother.
I am surprised they didn’t get kicked out of the Catholic Church for their sin.
Even though, growing up, I was told I was half Mexican, I didn’t really know what that meant. I even told my mother, “but you don’t look Mexican.” She replied, “that’s because I am your mother.”
I think I thought the term “Mexican” meant “different” and to me, having a mom with a darker complexion than myself was normal. It was all that I knew.
One time she brought home two dolls for my sister and me to play with. One was white and the other one was brown. I grabbed the brown doll because she reminded me of my mother. I named the doll Heidi.
Not “Conchita”, or “Rosa”, or “Consuelo”. But Heidi.
My grandparents didn’t teach my mother Spanish and the only reason why I know any Spanish at all is because I took two years of it in high school. But I can do the best Nacho Libre accent around. I can say the following sentence in perfect dialect:
“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
My only true “Mexican” memory I have growing up is of my great grandma Ortensia making tortillas from scratch. They were sooooo good. I do remember my other great grandma Lupe, sitting in a wheel chair and speaking no English. But they both died when I was quite young.
My sister and I had ponchos when were little. Does that count as Mexican? But it was also the 70’s and I think everybody had ponchos back then.
Why do people give me grief for not being Mexican enough? What about the rest of me? How come no one has ever asked me, “Theresa, you don’t play darts and drink whiskey? I thought you were Irish!”
Now, what’s that all about?
It is what it is. I will not apologize for not liking spicy food that burns my tongue and upsets my stomach. Or that I converted from the Catholic Church to a non-denominational Christian one. Or for the fact that when I use the word “cousin,” I really only mean “my first cousin on my father’s Irish side.”
My name is Theresa Ann Donahoe.
And I am a white Mexican.