I hate checking boxes. Here’s the deal. I am Dominican-American. My mother and father were both born in the Dominican Republic. I was born in New York City. I am Latina. I’m also an Actress.
Here’s the problem. America (and most of the world) has trouble accepting someone who looks like me, as Latin. In their eyes, Latin women look like Jennifer Lopez, Latin men look like Mario Lopez and all Latin people have the last name Lopez (or Garcia, Hernandez, etc).
Here’s the reality. Latinos are the most diverse looking group of people in the world. We come in all skin colors, eye colors and hair textures. We do not all look like the Latinos you see on TV and in films.
Here’s what’s frustrating. As a Latina of color, I have to constantly explain what I am. And as an Actress, I never really know the right answer. At every commercial audition there is the following sign-in sheet you must fill out.
Note the ETHNICITY section and explanation key below it. Now, yes I could just leave this section blank, but most people don’t and depending on how I’m feeling that day, I usually don’t either. It never fails though, I take an extra 10-15 seconds thinking… Do they want LATINO, BLACK or my personal favorite, ETHNICALLY AMBIGUOUS? Then I check accordingly. This seems silly, no? But what I’ve learned from past auditions is that you are to them what you say you are, regardless of what you really are. Make sense?
If they want a Black girl for the part and I say I’m Black, then viola! They see me that way. If they want a Latino girl and I say I’m Latino, then viola! Oh you are…great! If they want a girl of Mixed race and I check more than one box, viola again! I guess this means I’m diverse, which is a good thing? Now, if it were up to me… they would cast me based on my talent alone and not the color of my skin but come on, that’s just a silly notion. I am aware.
Here’s the story. I am so proud to be Latina and love my culture and all that comes with it, but I am a little sick of giving history lessons every time someone is dumbfounded at the fact that I can have black skin and still be 100% LATINA. Oh really, I thought you were mixed, like half black and half white. Well, you know what, you are not exactly wrong there. Let’s Wiki it, shall we…
The ethnic composition of the Dominican population is 73% multiracial, 16% white, and 11% black. The multiracial population is primarily a mixture of European and African, but there is as well a significant Taíno element in the population; recent research has shown that at least 15% of Dominicans have Taíno ancestry.
So to recap (and this is the case with other Latin islands in the Caribbean, too), Dominicans are historically and presently a mixed race that speaks Spanish and has a Latin culture and identity. Because of this, we do not ALL look like a Lopez. Some of us have black skin, some white, some olive and everything in between. It’s a beautiful thing.
Here’s my wish. That Hollywood and the world will open their eyes to the beauty that exists in our cultural and physical differences. That we stop stereotyping what someone should look like or act like based on where they’re from. (I’m guilty of it too). That we question people about their backgrounds out of curiosity, not out of judgement.
That’s all. Not too bad, right? Thanks for listening.
Photos of Zoe Saldana, LaLa Anthony, Christina Milian & Lauren Valez via WireImage
Commercial Sign-In Form via SAG