Latin Stereotypes Getty Images News/Mario Tama
By Enrique Grijalva

“You’re Mexican, right?”

“Nah, I’m Guatemalan.”

“Yeah…you’re Mexican.”

“Yeah…I’m Mexican.”

I’ve had this exchange, verbatim, on numerous occasions — it’s customary at this point. Most people assume I’m Mexican, and I don’t blame them. If I saw myself on the street I would guess that I’m Mexican, too.

I’m Mexican, but I’m not Mexican. It’s a deep understanding. I’ve always said this to one of my closest friends — a dark-skinned Dominican who initially thought I was Mexican — and in his lack of understanding of my facetious motto, he’d dismiss it with vexation. He was tired of hearing me refer to myself as Mexican. I was equally tired of hearing others refer to me as Mexican.

When I say I’m Mexican, I’m being subversive. My friend never understood that it was a passive-aggressive coping device. I didn’t grow up around Guatemalans; I grew up in Washington Heights with Dominicans. They didn’t call me by name; they referred to me as, “You Fucking Dirty Mexican.” I stood out, and because of it, I was made to feel ashamed.

So, I never developed that blind national pride many people have for their country, and that experience helped contribute to my lack of allegiance to any country. I consider myself neither American nor Guatemalan. And out of respect for real Mexicans, who face rigid socioeconomic injustices in America, I sincerely don’t consider myself Mexican.

French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” That’s how I identify myself. I just happen to be a human being with Mesoamerican facial features. Of course I look Mexican — physically, we’re not-so-distant cousins. So, if you think I’m Mexican, then I’ll be Mexican. I don’t give a fuck. Those labels are just bullshit you need to associate me with a group, and measure me as an individual.

What’s alarming, though, is the foolish superiority complex that many Latinos possess. Take Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, for example, who traditionally don’t like being confused for one another. Both sides believe they’re more civilized than the other. Yet, they’re both descendants of Taínos, who had their respective islands pillaged by the Spanish.

Growing up in New York, I’ve witnessed many Latinos, especially those from Central American countries, abhor the thought of someone mistaking them for a Mexican. The stigma stems from a blind disdain for the nationality, which bleeds through a derogatory connotation in which people use the term “Mexican.” Sadly, it’s socially acceptable to insult or demean them.

If you’re working too many hours or performing arduous work, “you’re working like a Mexican.” Some men disregard Mexican women when dating, believing that they’re all short and stocky. One common description is that they’re shaped like a box.

Additionally, your drinking habits are questioned, everything you eat is spicy, you have tons of kids, you get paid to cut the grass, and you have some ties to Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) or the Mexican drug cartel. I can’t even apply for a job without getting a look when they ask for my Social Security card.

Despite all of the stereotypes, parts of the Mexican culture are widely accepted. Actually, some of those stereotypical aspects are gladly welcomed and adored. From the chicken burrito you get at Chipotle or your local taco truck to the tequila shots you downed in celebration of Cinco de Mayo (which, much to the surprise of some, is NOT Mexico’s Independence Day), it’s evident that everyone has a love/hate relationship with Mexicans and their culture.

I look Mexican, therefore I face similar obstacles. My American citizenship is constantly questioned.

I’m used to it.

I’m a relatively quiet guy, so when I start a new job, many of my co-workers and supervisors assume I don’t know English. Personally, I love when they complement me on how well I speak the language.

I’m used to it.

On the basketball courts, if no one knows my name, they refer to me as “Mexico.”

I’m used to it.

In high school, when I was in rap battles, I was so much better than the other dudes that all they could resort to were Mexican insults.

I got used to that.

I have a great rapport with Mexicans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Salvadorians, Costa Ricans, or anyone who you might consider “Mexican.” Since there is a nurturing love there that’s respected, we look out for each other.

I’m Mexican, but I’m not Mexican. It’s a deep understanding.