The Race is On

essay by Marie Mundaca

I was mentioning the racial make-up of an event I attended to a friend, and when I said, "There were no hispanics, except me," he balked. "Surely you don't consider yourself hispanic!," he said. Or something like that. The implication was that I don't look very hispanic. And it's true, in New York, I don't. But get me outside of a city and I look like a platano in the sun.

Well, wait a second. I definitely do look hispanic. To other hispanics, anyway. People always talk to me in spanish, and before you say something obnoxious, just wait a sec. When I tell them I don't speak Spanish, they tend to look a little baffled, and then say, "But you look hispanic!" Italian-americans often think I'm Italian. Many white New Yorkers think I'm Jewish, or Greek. Once, an Irish cab driver asked me if I was Vietnamese. I said no, but he pressed me further, trying to figure out my ethnicity. To shut him up, I told him the truth: my mother's family is from Dublin. Anyway, my point is, in New York I can be anything. In San Diego, it's assumed that I'm Mexican. In Florida, I can't get served in a Denny's.

I've been detained at both the Canadian and the Mexican border. While I'm sure that my Canadian detention was based upon my then-boyfriend's suspicious behavior (he was smuggling artificial sweetener), it must be noted that his lily-white-ass bags did not get checked. The guard at the Mexican border clearly thought I had fake ID when I showed him my New York State driver's license when I walked across the border from Tiajuana. "Where were you born!," he barked at me.

"New York?," I told him.

"It doesn't say that here!"

"It doesn't say anything there! It's a driver's license!"

"Where's your passport!"

"Uh, I don't have one. Do I need one?"

"Go stand over there!," he says, pointing to a dark, ominous corner.

Need I tell you that my pale, red-headed boyfriend was halfway to LA by this point? Well, he wasn't really, he waited several hours while I stood in the corner for no reason. In the border guard's defense, I was very slightly tan that day.

I've been on both sides, though. Once, I was the victim of reverse discrimination, but I didn't mind so very much. I answered a blind ad in the Help Wanted section of the New York Times, and a week later I got a call from a very nice woman at a prominent black publisher. At this point I'd like you to note my last name. Again, in New York it can be anything: people think it's Greek, Italian, Indian, and yes, African. They think maybe it used to be spelled Mundaka, and actually, it was, but way before I got it. So I can't fault the woman for calling. The interview went well, but she was very honest with me--she really wanted to hire a black person. Well, who could blame her? At least she was honest with me, as opposed to the dishonesty perpetrated by recruiters and HR people who pretend that a black or hispanic or a woman might be considered for a similar position at, say, Forbes (where I also interviewed, and was highly qualified for the job being offered, and was not hired. I didn't fit in! I didn't go to an Ivy League school that accepted me based upon my father's contributions... Is that discrimation? You can draw your own conclusions.). The woman was nice enough to pass my resume on to others in the field, and I contacted my qualified black friends. Ultimately, both actions came to naught, but, hell, we tried.

I'll tell you a story that happened to an hispanic friend of mine. He put down on his application for Princeton that he was hispanic (at his father's insistence, I'll add). As a white person, he was definitely Princeton material: straight As, football team, debate team, after-school job at the rectory for christ's sake, very high SAT scores, AP classes, Boys' State. Princeton schedules an interview at the Princeton Club, and said person shows up in his nice suit. The interviewer is drunk! And immediately says, "You're not hispanic! You're too light!" I don't know exactly what was said by my friend, but I'm sure it was true, and construed as obnoxious by the drunken white frat boy. Needless to say, this person did not get into Princeton, which is a completely overrated school anyway, 3rd only to Yale and Harvard in the hierarchy of overrated schools. My friend now makes oodles of cash as an attorney, none of which will ever be donated to Princeton.


Copyright (c) 2001 Marie Mundaka