The Right Words to Say: On Being Read as White

Dahlia Grossman-Heinze on March 5, 2015

IMG_5131-1 (dragged)

I have strategies I use to tell you who I am. They have different rates of success, but I will employ them all whenever the situation allows. I mention my quinceañera. I tell the story of the first time my parents heard me speak English. I say words deliberately correctly in Spanish like guerrilla. I talk about Mexican music I like. I note that I am a bilingual Spanish speaker on my resume. I talk about Mexican movies I like. When I am with people, I answer phone calls from my mom and tell her I can’t talk, but I do it in Spanish. I keep her on the phone a little longer than I have to. Whenever the topic of family comes up, I say that most of mine lives in Mexico. I am prepared with these tactics when I have to tell you who I am, ready to fit them in between the pauses so that you might reread me. I’m better at it now than I used to be—I’ve been practicing a long time, figuring out the right words to say.

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