Thursday, January 05, 2006

No Hablo Espanol

"Did you know your father is Cuban?"


I was probably fourteen or fifteen at the time. I had no idea what my mother was talking about.

"Well, according to Visa, he is. See," she said, handing me a credit card offer that had been on the table. Sure enough, the letter was addressed to my dad and told him that he could have a card like the one pictured at the top of the page - a card decorated in Cuban flags - so that he would celebrate and remember his heritage each time he made a purchase.

I laughed. My mom laughed. A few minutes later when my dad walked into the kitchen, we began calling him Pedro (he's Peter Claus by birth). His mysterious Cuban heritage became a running joke in our family, especially because my dad looked the part. Although he's 100% German, most people assume he's Greek or Italian. With dark features and skin that becomes almost black after a day in the sun, my dad could definitely be Hispanic.

We joked about the Cuban card for awhile, until more mail started arriving at our house. Latino Business magazine. More credit card offers and direct mail in Spanish. Somehow my father's name had been included on a distribution list of Spanish-speaking men. And within a few months, I discovered that I had also been labeled Hispanic. Latina Girl came addressed to me. I began receiving Money Saver envelopes and Oldsmobile mailings, all in Spanish.

My mom felt left out. And she was the only one in our house who spoke Spanish.

During the summer when I was fifteen, a guy I met at a concert asked me if I was Latina. I've been told by three people that I look like Eva Mendes (I don't see it at all, but I will accept the compliment at any time). I have dressed up as J Lo for costume parties. I enjoy Mexican, Spanish, and Latin American food. My favorite film director is Spanish. I even enjoy a lot of Latin music. Quesadillas are my specialty in the kitchen. But that is as Latina as I get.

Even after I moved out of my parents house, the mail en Espanol kept arriving. My Yahoo music station at work plays song after song in Spanish even though I never listed Latin music as a preference. The "Erin is Latina" jokes are still going strong, perpetuated mostly by my best friend. She tells people that I'm Cuban or Puerto Rican and, even though they don't quite see it in me, they believe her.

And I don't mind really. Being Irish/German has yet to reveal its perks.

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