Quoted: Oscar Hijuelos on Prejudice Being Skin Deep

Oscar Hijuelos

Guernica: Even through your adolescence, you felt like an outsider, both with your family and in your neighborhood. Could you talk more about these feelings and how they shaped you? Did they heighten your powers of observation? Or make it easier to drift like a spy through certain social and ethnic groups?

Oscar Hijuelos: Well, I had a kind of double whammy. I didn’t comport myself like a Latino, and I didn’t particularly look like one either.

Guernica: You mentioned that people continually commented on the lightness of your skin.

Oscar Hijuelos: Oh yes, I have very, very light skin. I didn’t fit into the general image of what a Latino was supposed to look like. I remember riding buses in the Bronx on my way back from high school, and the Irish kids on the bus would say “spic this” and “spic that.” But then when I was fourteen years old, I tried to get in touch with my Latin roots by joining an organization called ASPIRA, but I was given a frosty reception by these kids there who were pissed off at “whitey.” That’s the thing: it doesn’t take much to push you away if you’re already shell-shocked. I always liked being around Spanish-speaking folks who I already knew, but when I started to go out in the world, I saw that prejudice really is skin-deep. Of course, there are other layers, but much of it is just race and appearance.

—Oscar Hijuelos, “Recovering Cubanness“, Guernica

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  • kari

    I can understand what this is like. I am Native American with very light skin and blue eyes who was raised and still lives on a reservation. I have gotten so much crap from other Natives for being white. It is really hard. I am mixed raced but consider myself mostly Native because of how I was raised and live my life. I’ve also ran into circumstances where non Native people will be talking in a derogatory about Natives and not know I am Native. I still don’t feel completely comfortable in my skin. I remember my first foray into the “real” world as a teenager and getting a job. It was truly the first time I was really around non Native people and I remember feeling so shy and awkward and its like everyone was like hey you look just like them so why is it weird but its like I don’t have any connection really.

  • Morenaclara

    This reminds me of high-school. I have an English surname and  beige
    skin tone( hence the name Morena Clara). I knew Spanish( I grew up in a
    bilingual household), I saw myself as latina,I had latino friends, I had Mexican citizenship but
    the kids who bullied me  where not only LIGHTER than me, who had ranch
    accents made fun of me and said”I wasn’t mexican”. They belonged to the
    Latinos  Unidos club and taking about the oppression of latinos.  I won’t lie though, I get a little kick when people ask me ” Why is your surname ——?”.   It’s  a hard blow when people say you are too “white” and you watch Mexican tv and you rarely find someone the same skin tone as you.

  • http://www.jeffreyandflora.com Flora

    Well, I had a kind of double whammy. I didn’t comport myself like a Latino, and I didn’t particularly look like one either.

    This totally resonates with me. I’m a really fair-skinned Chicana who didn’t really grow up acting like the other Mexican kids in my neighborhood. I was an outsider to my own people because I didn’t look like them, all the way through grad school. I always found that to be ironic because I was taught in my Chicana/o Studies courses that we as people of color should unite and support each other, when in reality it was my own people who hurt and ostracized me the most.