Mexsplaining Myself

-LA Times

My mother was an immigrant to America, born in Mexico City. My father was a white American born in the United States. I identify as Mexican and American, retaining both nationalities and cultures. I was raised equally in both countries and languages. I spent every summer as a child up until my tweens in Mexico City, and visited family and vacationed all over central Mexico. I went to school in Mexico City for 5th and 6th grade.

I was asked if I consider myself to be BIPOC, which stands for Black Indigenous Person of Color. While I have indigenous ancestry (a whopping 17% total from the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and Cuba, thanks DNA testing), in no way do I count as a person of color. I am white passing, thus I have white privilege, and do not endure the inherent systemic discrimination against people who are not white passing. Morally it is my responsibility as a white passing person to make space for people of color whenever possible.

So if I’m not a BIPOC, what am I? I’m a white Mexican. I’m Hispanic, Latina, “Latinx” (please don’t use this performative term invented by overcorrecting white people), Latin American, Mexican. But I’m not a person of color. There are white Mexicans the same way there are Black Americans, i.e. while an American stereotype might be a white person with a thick New York or Texas accent, Americans can look and sound different than a singular stereotype. Americans often hold onto the racist stereotype that all Mexicans are brown, indigenous, and of lower economic classes. This is of course not the whole picture or fully representative of Mexico as a nation. Personally I am a white Mexican from an upper middle class background, and my accent in Spanish is neutral central Mexican.

Under this white Mexican classification, I personally avoid auditions that ask for Afro-Latinas, for example, because I have no African descent and Afro-Latin actors do exist! If I can make it easier for casting directors to find the appropriate actor, I’m happy to take my white privilege and step aside.

Latino means people of Latin American descent but that doesn’t mean brown shades only, the same way “American” doesn’t mean white shades only. Americans are sometimes still slow to the idea that people from other countries come in all shades, and not just whatever color is presented in their respective scene in It’s a Small World at Disneyland.

When it comes to voice over casting, the specs can be a bit obscure or insensitive, or just plain ignorant. In an effort to encourage “diversity,” casting might throw a wide net but be unable to articulate exactly what kind ethnic background, nationality, or cultural background the client is looking for, particularly when those factors are very different from each other and not mutually exclusive.

“Diverse” at times seems to be the blatant new code for “urban.” “Urban” has long been a descriptor in audition specs as a seemingly polite but actually crude way of asking for a Black actor without having to say “Black.” And even then, “urban” has deeply racist connotations, limiting a Black actor’s performance to what the [typically white] casting director or client is expecting. In the real world, not all Black people sound the same because Black people come from all economic backgrounds and education levels, and regions of the world. Same for Hispanics and Latin Americans! We don’t all sound the same because we’re not, but expectations of what a Hispanic or Latino character should sound like are often limited by a white casting director or white creative’s expectations.

In my many years of being a voice actor, I have only twice met Black casting directors. To my knowledge I have not worked with a Latino casting director outside of commercials (i.e. games, animation, etc.). It’s not surprising the white majority casting community is still trying to simplify casting by color matching rather than culture matching. The burden rests on culturally and ethnically diverse actors to present new ideas to the casting community, and maybe surprise them with the multitudes we contain.