The Leftovers of Labels: The intersection of who I am and who you think I am


It’s a three-dimensional, geometric world out there.

Yet, too often I’m whittled down to a two-dimensional representation that isn’t fitting, or fitting enough.

In my mind, when we as a society simplify and categorize ourselves for the sake of ease, we get trapped inside the categories imposed upon us, but we don’t fit. It’s like we’re living creatures imprisoned, stuck inside a cage too small to hold us, with limbs protruding from between the latticework of metal.

Psychologically, it’s natural for humans to give labels, to assign categories, to use order (and sometimes hierarchy, ew) to make sense out of the insane entropy of everything. But the way I see it, labels kill complexity. It’s too easy to rely on labels and forget people are more. And I know it’s not revolutionary or interesting to say that we as humans are complex, blah blah blah, we’ve heard it before. But allow me to remind you: we are more than our labels. We are more than the box we check on sexuality, race, religion, gender, and so on and so forth.

Now, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t embrace our identities, but let’s be okay with existing outside of them when they don’t do us justice. Let’s be okay with being somewhere in between. We are more than our identities, even the intersection of them. Let us love our identities, but let’s not get trapped inside of them.

The reason I bring this up is because I’m a Latina woman, technically. I’m a member of a vibrant culture that is different in so many ways from the American culture I’ve been raised in. In that way, I’m indisputably Latina. Every summer of my life, I spend three months at a home away from home, surrounded by aunts, cousins, grandparents, nieces, hammocks, and sunlight. That’s a fourth of my year, every year, and a fourth of my life in Brazil. It’s where my mom is from, and it’s a place I have so much love and pride for. For Brazil I possess a patriotism that I admittedly don’t have for the United States, as much as I love it here, too.

I’m only half Brazilian by blood, on my mom’s side, but I’m infinitely more connected to my Brazilian side than my dad’s side. Because of this, I’ve never even called my dad “Dad” or “Father”–he’s Papai to me. And yet, I wonder if being half is enough. I am passing white. People who don’t know me don’t know I’m Brazilian, and they have no way of knowing by my appearance. I’ve never gotten discriminated for my Latinx background by strangers. People who do know my background have sometimes asked ignorant questions about whether or not Brazilians are all naked indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest, whether all Brazilian women go topless at beaches, and other sexualizations, objectifications, and gross generalizations of Brazilians in general, but I’m somewhat distanced from that. I’m quite aware of who I am to those that ask me these questions. To them, I’m someone who can report on the realities of Brazil, rather than a “true” Brazilian who would or could be offended by anything like the inappropriate fetishization of “sultry” South American women. Simply put, to them, I’m white.

With all this ricocheting in my mind, I can’t help but wonder if the crude stereotypes can be as hurtful to me as they are to my mother, for instance. How can they be, when to others I’m an intermediary, naught but a typical American with special and juicy insight?

Granted, I am defined by myself my identity is internal and self-constructed. But the fact remains that my own perception of myself can’t help but be informed by what others perceive me as. When others don’t perceive me as Brazilian, am I as Brazilian as those natural born, or with distinctive accents or characteristics that display their origins?

Complicating the issue further, I speak Portuguese and not Spanish. An important facet of what ties most of the Latinx community together is a common language, which I lack. I can’t help but feel like the word Latina doesn’t apply to me, it’s a lie, because I think that I’m not like others that share the name. It’s hard to consider myself a Latina woman when I’m not of Spanish heritage. Although it’s not strictly correct, Latina is nearly synonymous with Hispanic in our culture. But I’m not Hispanic.

I’m Brazilian, so you tell me, should I check the box that says Latina/Hispanic? Or should I check that ambiguous category of other? I’m not that either, but it might be closer to the truth.

I don’t know whether I mean it when I say I’m Latina. I don’t know if I should be allowed the label, and if I am allowed it whether I feel true to it.

But, I mean this:

I’m going to find out. In the meantime, I’ll remember that it’s okay to be a three-dimensional person outside of two dimensional categories. It’s my sincere hope that you will do the same.

Until then, tchao meus amores.

Bye my loves.

Sadie Quinn

Staff Writer, What the F Magazine

University of Michigan, Class of 2019

B.S. Biochemistry and B.A. Comparative Literature

Image credit to NY Times, Pablo Declán


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