Not a Mutt


Courtesy of Zoe Rodriguez

UNAPOLOGETIC: Stemming from mixed roots, Rodriguez is unashamed of her ancestry.

By Zoe Rodriguez

My mom used to call me a “mutt.” Like a dog.

She didn’t mean it to be demeaning. She just meant to say that I was mixed. She even called herself a “mutt.” But the difference between me and my mom is that my mom is mixed European. She’s Scottish, French and German.

By extension, I’m all of those things too, but I’m also half Mexican.

Now I know someone reading this is going to furrow their brow and look back at my picture in confusion. I would like to then direct this reader to my byline, which clearly spells out my last name, Rodriguez, or, in other words, the only visual proof I have of my ethnicity besides my eyebrows.

But back to my mom. Like I said, she meant no harm by calling me a “mutt.” But what happened as a result was that I struggle to this day to find and feel comfortable in my own ethnic identity. This is essentially because I never learned that being Mexican meant something different than being Scottish or German or French.

On the surface level, these are all the same. They are each a slice of the pie chart of my identity. Take out society and this model works. That’s how my mom always pictured it. She never really understood that no one can simply remove the societal connotation of who they come from.

But in reality, there is no way to escape the hateful rhetoric that condemns Mexicans as worthless. There is no way to ignore the fact that Hispanics make up 18.1 percent of the total U.S. population and yet a quarter of Ivy League Schools have Hispanic populations below 10 percent. Being Scottish does not mean that my racial group is underrepresented in higher education, one of the few opportunities that has been shown to be a socioeconomic equalizer.

Even my (Mexican) grandparents knew this. They were both born and raised in America and received no more than an elementary school education. My grandmother learned to drive at 40 just to take my dad to private schools so that he could get the education they were denied. Through their hard work and relentless determination, they have allowed my brother and I to have opportunities in life they only dreamed of. To say that I am simply white is to say that their sacrifice, their achievement of the American Dream, is lost forever because their descendants happen to look a little different.

I may never have a good answer to the dreaded “What are you” question. But one thing I know is that I am not a “mutt.” I am not some designer dog breed that was genetically crafted to, as my friend likes to say, “be the perfect balance of ‘non-threatening white girl’ and ‘able to check the Hispanic/Latino/a box.’” I am white. I am hispanic. I am mixed. What exactly that means to me depends on the day. But I don’t know who I would be if I never had to figure it out. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to.