SPANGLISH

What Color Goes With Homeland Security?

By Margie Davis

A sentence I have never said: “Funny, you don’t look non-Hispanic.”

However, many people (none of them Hispanic) have told me that I can’t be Hispanic because I don’t look it and I don’t have a Hispanic name. One woman actually said, “Hispanic? No way. You’re white.”

The color thing is not limited to Anglos. My mother (una Colombiana de Barranquilla) says that as a little girl she dreamed of marrying un blanco de los Estados Unidos. She saw that as her way out of the dead-end poverty she lived in. She dreamed of blonde, blue-eyed, pale children.

She didn’t get them. She obsesses about her own color, a soft, warm brown. “Aye, en el sol me pongo negrita,” she moans, rubbing her hands up and down her arms, as if to wipe the offending color away.

She gave me a “British” sounding name to hide my Latino roots, thinking she’d protect me from discrimination. In the Anglo world, culture is color, so to be white is to be Anglo. When I tell Hispanics that the actor Martin Sheen is Hispanic, they can only stare in amazement. Martin Sheen, el presidente, Latino? His real name is Ramon Estevez.

Hispanics ­ here come the tricky part ­ comprise a number of cultures and races. There are black Hispanics. There are white Hispanics. We share a similar language the same way the British and Americans and Canadians and Australians all speak “English.”

Recently I needed to replace my social security card which I probably lost about 20 minutes after I got it in 1966. Things were going swimmingly at the Social Security Office until the pleasant young woman at the computer asked where I was born.

Uh, oh. “Fort Clayton,” I told her. “It’s an Army base in the Panama Canal Zone.”

She took her fingers off the keyboard. “So, you’re Panamanian.”

I explained that I wasn’t, that I’d been born on a U.S. Army base and therefore a citizen right off the bat.

She hesitated. “Do you have your naturalization papers?”

I explained again.

Did I have my green card?

I didn’t need a green card, I told her. I’m a citizen.

Had I ever worked in this country?

Look, I said, trying not to grit my teeth, I’ve worked since I was 15. I’ve never needed a green card or naturalization papers or anything else because I’m a citizen.

She said she was going to get the lady in the back.

The lady in the back was very pleasant. Yes, yes, Army bases. She knew all about that. She tapped on the keyboard, then said, “So, you’re Panamanian?”

I came back the next day with my birth certificate and passport. All the clerks at the windows were different from the previous day and the young man who had the misfortune to draw me looked more and more rattled as I explained my situation. He asked if I was sure I wasn’t from Panama.

I asked him to get the lady in the back.

She appeared, unfolded my birth certificate and looked it over.

“So,” she said, “your parents were Panamanian?”

I pointed out on the document where my parents’ nationalities were listed. Father, U.S.A. Mother,

Colombian.

The lady in the back conferred with some colleagues. Eventually a form was presented and I signed here and

here. A few days later I got my replacement social security card.

I guess I’m a U.S. citizen. But, in this age of homeland security and a rainbow of terror alert colors, do I look it?