205.348.7264 mfj@sa.ua.edu

Ethnic Twister

Bianca McCarty

I am a No Sabo kid.

I catch every tenth word, if I’m lucky.

“Ella no habla Español?”

“Sí, no habla.”

“Por que?”

My skin is white and tan, both immune to the sun and freckled— confused all around.

If belonging is culture, then I am a rock in space. Everything I am is scavenged, pieced together as if my very being was a rushed quilt. I speak like a Southerner, though I am not by birth. I am a Spanish teacher’s daughter, an Irishman’s descendent, both the colonizer and the colonized.

Humans are obsessed with boxes, from the ones where we put ourselves to the ones we check before standardized tests. For the longest time, pencils hovered between “White,” “Hispanic,” and “Other.” There is anger when you don’t fit— as if your existence is not convenient.

I’ve heard it before. We all have.

“What are you?”

I almost don’t mind such a question, as it gives me a chance to explain what and why and where, and maybe understand it myself. Is it strange to feel almost grateful, as well? If they see it, then it really must be there.

They’re surprised when they hear a quarter Salvadoran. They always expect Asian, for some reason. My father says it’s the eyes. White people tend to choose a few features to define an entire race and run a marathon with it.

Curls, dark eyes, and the slightest bump in my nose— that’s all I got, and unless Jesus comes along and gives me proper Latina hips suited for childbearing, then it’s all I will get.

Race and ethnicity aren’t purely physical. I don’t think this world will ever truly understand that.


Even as I applied for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the problem of my freckled skin and thin eyebrows reemerged.

In the second round, they want a photo of you. So, I posed in front of our kitchen wall in a pink sweater I only ever wear to church (we’re Catholic, of course).

“It’s not good that they have to see you,” my mom said. With her self-proclaimed “brown soul,” she tends to be blunt like that.


“Because you look like a white girl.”

She’s not wrong. I’ve seen my face in the mirror a million times over. I had to fight my school counselor to change my ethnicity on my transcript from “Non-Hispanic” to “Hispanic.” She looked me in the eye and asked for proof. I didn’t know what to tell her.

Still, even with all the privilege that comes from my pale skin and mousey hair, I just wish that people would see all my complicated identity. God forbid I be more than one thing.

All my life, a quarter has been enough for ridicule, enough to separate me from my white peers. There were no other Hispanics in my class of thirteen, and the only people of color were Black or Indian. With the nicknames of Conquistador and Spaniard, and questions like “do you speak Mexican?” they showed me that I am not a person of color, but I am not white.

When Alcira Lopez came to this country, she knew who she was: A devout Catholic with a mouth, she is half Maya, half Spanish, an identity of two opposing histories, and she is both of them. Denis Weber will never know “what” he is, other than a self-proclaimed cowboy. His grandmother was on the orphan train, and despite his blatantly German last name, he claims to be French.

I suppose I am like both of my grandparents in that way. I know, but at the same time, I don’t.


My mom wanted me to have a Quinceañera.

“I never got one, Bianca Isabella, because we were poor! I thought a double-wide trailer was nice!” she said. “I ate cow tongue for years, la china.”

I wouldn’t have to wear the insane dress or have chamberlains, but I was in the phase of my life where I hated attention. Plus, the other Salvadoran girl at school said I’m not Hispanic enough to have one. She’s only half, by the way.

The guilt of “stealing” from a culture that is mine and my family’s wins over, and neither of my mother’s daughters would have a Quince for her.


I like to joke that I am a failed Latina. I sit through family gatherings held completely in Spanish, not understanding more than vague ideas. I had to be taught to dance and to like spicy food. I’ve got the temper, though.

I’m not ever going to be settled in my identity, but I doubt any mixed person ever really is. Always stretched apart like a game of ethnic twister, I’ve got one foot in El Salvador, an elbow in Ireland, and my pinkie finger in Germany.

If anything, I’ve gotten more flexible.


Now I say those three words with confidence, knowing that it makes me nothing less than the history that created me.

“No hablo Español.”