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Media not validating Rousey's Latina heritage is disrespectful

By Sunny Cadwallader - Dec 04, 2015

The story said, “she is white”.

Having worked on multiple stories recently on this athlete, I knew that statement was incorrect. There is Latina blood in her. She wasn't ashamed of it. She embraced it, even if it didn't always embrace her.

Ronda Rousey's blonde hair and green eyes gave no hit of her ethnicity – a fact that caused her to struggle as a child. She didn't look Latina.

No, she doesn't look it. Does that mean she is any less Latina?

Rarely do I speak out on Twitter. Given the obvious pitfalls, I am aware of how easy it is to misinterpret 140 characters. Conversations happen on Twitter, but when it comes to race, you're at the mercy of other people's interpretation.

That's one thing I know better than to do – leave things open to interpretation.

Yet, there was something about the “she is white” phrase that bothered me. So much so, that I had to speak up. I had to ask about a correction. I pointed out the error.

Not once. Not twice. Multiple times.

Finally, I received a response. Paraphrasing:

Thanks, but no thanks. We're right, you're wrong. It's about how she is “perceived”. We know she has some (Hispanic) in her, but it's not enough for us. Saying she is white fits the narrative.

The story is about how she is perceived, but saying “she is perceived by the public and media as white” doesn't fit the narrative.

The exchange left me numb. Numb because it was a slap in the face. Numb because she is proud of her Latina roots and the story completely disregarded it. The writer marginalized her heritage in order to fit their ideal “race” story.

A black-and-white story.

Make no mistake – for as much as they want to say it was about perception of the athlete, it wasn't. It was an angry story about the rise of a succesful “white” woman.

Only, she isn't just white. She is of mixed heritage. She grew up in the Hispanic culture. It is just as much a part of her as my Arizona upbringing is to me. Growing up in it doesn't make one “Hispanic”, per se, but the culture and heritage help shape our identity within the community.

But how do you explain that to a non-Hispanic? Culture, heritage are part of the fabric of what it means to be Hispanic, Latino, Chicano or whatever name you call yourself. There are some who refuse to call themselves Hispanic, instead opting to use a heritage-hyphenation (Mexican-American, Peruvian-American, etc...).

And that's okay.

Truth be told, it's become easier to just lump us all under the Hispanic umbrella (thanks, U.S. Census) in order to speak in generalizations. But, we are always mindful of our heritage.

And yet, here was this story, NOT mindful of the athlete's heritage. Misrepresenting her based on the color of her skin. And marginalizing her heritage.

Lack of understanding is no excuse. It's no excuse when discussing African-Americans. It's no excuse when discussing Caucasians. It's no excuse when discussing any race or ethnicity. The entire exchange left me with only questions...

You're the only one complaining. That's telling.

Do we all look the same? Is our skin tone all one smooth shade of olive? Are our heads all adorned in raven? Spanish our only language?

No.

Even within the “Hispanic” demographic we are a jigsaw puzzle of heritage and culture. Hispanics in Miami may share a language or two with but experience a far different America than their counterparts in Yakima, WA.

Our experiences are different. Our heritages and cultures are different. So, why should we all look the same? Why is it that this writer and their editor felt they had a right to decide this athlete wasn't Hispanic enough?

Does anyone have a right to decide who fits the Hispanic profile? Does the “outside” dictate the identity? This isn't a Rachel Dolezal issue – the woman who changed her appearance to look more African-American, even though she had no such lineage.

This athlete IS Latina. She was nominated for a Univision Deportes Premios honor recently. The athlete is also Caucasian. She identifies with both. Does that make her any less “Hispanic”? Does she need to choose in order for people to write accurately about her?

Why does she have to choose? Why does any person of mixed descent have to choose?

It happens often in sports, especially in soccer. How many Mexican-Americans have and will have to choose to play for El Tri or USMNT? And then...how many fans of the rejected country will turn on them? How many will consider that choice as an affront and no longer consider them one of “their own”?

As I think about it, maybe it's no wonder I was the only one to speak up about this slight. Even within our own demographic, we're like a jigsaw puzzle.

 An unassembled one. 

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