Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is Sophia Vergara White?

Word comes today that "Minority births outnumbered whites for first time." Which might mean "whites" are no longer the "majority," and even upend our notions of "majority" and "minority" (well, really:  how long do we think the fiction of "majority minority" can be sustained?).

But the Census also tells us that 50% of Hispanics identify themselves as "white."  And 100 years ago or so, Italians and Irish and Eastern Europeans were not, at least on these shores, considered "white."

So:  is Sophia Vergara white?  Or Hispanic?  And what about Eduardo Saverin?  White?  Or Hispanic?

When we think "minority" v. "white" we usually think in terms of "brown" (mestizo or Amerindian; we've kind of dropped "redskin" altogether) or black (African American, or just African, in the case of immigrants; except, I guess for Jamaicans and....well, now it's going to get complicated, so let's move on) or Asian.  Although I must admit it would be a simple matter to consider Asians "white", at least rather than "yellow" (the old stereotype) or "brown".

I put the colors in quotes not to make them scary, but to make a point:  these distinctions are so arbitrary.  Barack Obama is black; but his mother was white.  Of course, under the old race statutes of America, he would be a mulatto, his children quadroons (I think), their children octaroons.  I think it got traced down to 1/16th (the distinctions are all based on halving the original 1/2 distinction).  I'd have to re-read Puddn'head Wilson to be sure.  Thus, at any rate, did we get the "touch of the tarbrush" of yore.  We no longer identify people for themselves; we let them do that.  Thus Barack Obama is black.

But what does "white" mean anymore?  Skin color?  Why isn't Sophia Vergara "white," then?  Penelope Cruz is white, right?  Yes, she's Spanish, but why isn't she Hispanic?  Because that term is reserved for non-Europeans?

This just gets crazier and crazier.  Fox News tells me: The figures for "white" refer to those whites who are not of Hispanic ethnicity," but that's little help.  What's the difference, really, between my heritage and that of Sophia Vergara?  Is it a distinction without a difference?

I'm not afraid of a brown planet, or fearful of dramatic changes as minorities become majorities.  I'm just curious:  is this really a change, or is it just a question of definition?

And is it a definition that really matters very much?


  1. "Is Sophia Vergara White?"

    She's a Boobish-American. ;-)

    "Barack Obama is black; but his mother was white. Of course, under the old race statutes of America, he would be a mulatto, his children quadroons (I think)"

    No, only if Michelle were white.

    Boy, that was some non-news "news" today...

  2. No, only if Michelle were white.

    I'm pretty sure the "taint" from his father would persist into the grandchildren. "White" was a "pure" standard under the old laws; hence other terms existed, like "ni**er in the woodpile," explaining a darker complexion by appeal to an ancestor one would prefer not to otherwise acknowledge.

    It's sad that I know these things.

  3. In the olden days, hardliners said one drop of black blood made you black, even if you were whiter than the hardliner.

    Over the generations, some of my ancestors migrated from Portugal to Brazil to Central America. Am I Hispanic? To muddy the water (or mix the bloodlines), my heritage includes French, English, and German ancestors. So what am I?

  4. Upon reconsideration, JCF is probably right. It's the "white" that was tainted, not the "black."

    Again, very sad that I even know this. My daughter would think I was from Mars.

    And Mimi--I know. What are any of us? "Non-white Hispanics"? The more I think about that, the less sense it makes.

  5. GtnSteve9:32 AM

    Here's my question. How many generations have to go by before people of Mexican heritage and light skin become "white"? Let's assume ethnically homogeneous marriage for several generations, third or fourth generation US citizens. Are they still Hispanic?

    1. In my opinion only people from Whales are white_Anglo. The rest of us are not

  6. My understanding is that "Hispanic" is now a totally separate category n the federal classificatory scheme, since many Hispanics consider themselves as white as Anglos. (Spain, of course, is as much a part of Europe as Norway, but there was considerably more intermarraige between European and Native American in Latin America than on the Eastern seaboard, I think). Back before the change I remember my next-door neighbors having a great bru-ha-ha about it: Dad was from an old New Mexico family, mom from Maine; the kids insisted that they were white, despite the family name. Dad prevailed, probably because the kids were almost college age, and there it really matters.

    These things can also matter in New Mexico because some events and shows are restricted to "Hispanics." I have some doubts about whether such restrictions would survive a legal challenge, though, frankly, I hope one never comes. Spanish Market here in Santa Fe is so restricted. Still, I have bought artwork there from a family now carrying a Swedish name, who go back a number of generations in Chimayo.

    One friend of mine is a Zen Buddhist priest, who for decades has worked in retreat centers, and normally goes by a Japanese name given him by his mentor. Nevertheless, he is a California-born Hispanic, and uses his given name only when he shows at Spanish Market.

    Another true story: a friend from Chicago who was married to a retired Swede turns out to have had a Spanish-sounding maiden name because her paternal grandfather had been a Phillipino (and thus was able to qualify for a "Hispanic exhibit" at Expo New Mexico).

    Exactitude in these matters is hard to come by. And I wouldn't want to see the the distinctions suppressed--there is a distinctive cluster of Hispanic cultural norms and models that is worth preserving and promoting in a rapidly homogenizing world. (This is not to even go into the Native American side). But it can be much more complicated than our simple categories (except for me, I guess, Mr. White-as-Wonder-Bread).

  7. Windhorse12:16 PM

    Whether you're part of the "majority" (white) culture or a mixed-heritage minority, how you identify or are identified by others seems to have everything to do with being 'fer or 'agin the minority part in question. 

    An acquaintance of mine (from a short stint in the seminary, no less) who is a proud racist was galled that the media described George Zimmerman as a "White Hispanic" - because in his mind, the old one drop rule applies. The fact that Zimmerman's dad was a conservative Virginia magistrate of Caucasian descent who'd raised his son to be a law and order vigilante - typically thought of as dominant culture traits - made no difference to this Caucasian, conservative law-and-order acquaintance who also happened to live in Virginia. I certainly have no idea how George Zimmerman sees himself, personally; maybe he identifies more with his Latino heritage or maybe he just doesn't think about it. But my friend (and a whole lot of people like him) were quick to use Zimmerman's half-brownness to exonerate the white, racist, vigilante sub-culture from any wrong-doing in the matter. 

    I imagine they'd be singing a very different tune, however, had Zimmerman been a member of the Tea Party who'd saved Rush Limbaugh from drowning. Identity in mixed-heritage peoples is a flexible tool for those with an agenda. 

  8. Rick--

    you raise an excellent point: such distinctions can and do matter, especially if the "Melting Pot" is being used to dissolve and melt away valuable strains of culture which should be preserved.

    I have a beer stein from Fredericksburg which celebrates the Texas Sesquicentennial. It is adorned with a cowboy on a bucking bronc. The bronc is really more of a rectangle than a horse, reflecting the very German heritage of the illustration appropriate to the stein. His dress is also particularly German.

    But most of our words for what he is doing, especially if he was using a lariat in a rodeo, and even the concept of "cowboy," come from Mexican culture. Which mixes freely with the German cuisine of Central Texas (easy to find sausages spiced with jalapenos, for example). There's a lot of Texas which is better off observing, rather than absorbing, its mixed cultures (French, German, Polish and Eastern European, Mexican) (and now Vietnamese, Thai, etc., and that not just on the Gulf among the shrimpers).

    I suppose its a matter of who's doing the distinguishing, and why.

  9. Of course, conservatives (those who are not freaking out over the statistics underlying this question) will use all of this discussion to "prove" that we are in a post-racial society and therefore affirmative action isn't necessary anymore (even if the very fact we are still having this discussion proves something quite different).

    Identity is a complicated thing, though. I am about as white as one can be without being an albino, but my people used to be considered something other than "white", even though some of us are indeed very white/European in phenotype, based on our religion. Interestingly, one branch of my family is actually very swarthy (were they Roma? descended from Sephardim/Moors? I don't know ...) ... and they were the most racist branch of my family tree.

    On the matter of racial identity: one Shabbat (not so long after Black History Month, which they have even at my daughter's school where she is one of less than a handful of students with Black ancestry -- not that she is the darkest kid in class, there are many kids of South/Central Asian ancestry in her school who are far darker than she -- but she is in a Jewish school and there are not too many African-American Jews) after services we went to a presentation my daughter's godmother was giving at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral and then afterwards went to a luncheon at my daughter's godmother's church.

    Surveying the crowd of people, my 6 year old daughter asked "am I African-American?" (yes, those were her exact words). I didn't know whether to laugh or cry (or just ponder how 11:00 AM Sunday ... or 10:00 AM Saturday if you are Jewish or Seventh Day Adventist is still the most segregated hour in America), but my wife was quicker to respond "yes. And you are also a White-American and a Jewish-American". To which my daughter responded "so, I am all mixed-up?". Now I really didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

    But I will say, she really does identify with President Obama. Interestingly (and this will tell you both about the lack of African-Americans on the TeeVee and also how segregated our society really still is), when my daughter (about 3 at the time) first saw Michelle Obama on the TeeVee, her response was "Mommy's on TV!".

  10. Anonymous7:40 AM

    Yes, of course she is white! Spain is a NORTHERN European country as well, so many hispanic people are absolutely as ''white'' as somebody from England..

  11. Anonymous9:50 PM

    Eduardo Faverin ís brazilian. Brazilians not are hispanic. We speak portuguese.

  12. Expect recent white immigrants. you can have straight up looking white people like adriana lima but she claims that she is mixed race. vergara looks. discover this info here

    1. Spain is not a Northern European country. Someone may have a fair complexion or inherit white skin, but it doesn't mean they're white. You need to look at the facial features of a person-( mouth, eyes, hair texture, cheekbones). Race depends on facial features. You may have white skin but inherited indigenous features from your forefathers. To conclude, she is not white.

    2. I disagree with you. If she isn't white, no one is. To me, she is definitely white.

  13. Most people from Northern Spain arrived there from Northern Europe, which explains her blonde hair and fair complexion. If we consider Sicilians, which are people from Southern Italy as white even though they are closer to the equator than Northern Spaniards, then it would make sense that most Northern Spaniards are white. Incidentally, Hispanic/ considered an ethnicity separate from race by the US Census Bureau and. they can be of any race. Sofia Vergera is definitely white to my eyes.

  14. Hispanic is almost an ethnicity that’s linked to someone with Spanish background (sometimes also Indigenous) and/or someone who is born in a nation with Spanish culture, except for Spain itself. When I say that a person is hispanic for example, it means that they either have Spanish heritage or were born in a nation that has been colonized by Spain or both. However, someone who was born in a country that has not been colonized by Spain cannot at all be considered hispanic, due to cultural reasons.

    Let's consider a few situations:

    - The model Adriana Lima has Swiss, Indigenous, African, Japanese and West Indian heritage AND she’s from Brazil. Is she hispanic? No, because Brazil has no Spanish roots. If she had Spanish blood she would still not be considered hispanic.

    - Someone from Argentina and only has Italian blood. Are they hispanic? Yes, because Argentina was colonized by Spain.

    - I'm from Brazil, not matter what my bloodlines are. Am I hispanic? Not, because Brazil was colonized by Portugal.

    - The actress Cameron Diaz, whose parents are from Cuba, has Spanish, Indigenous, English, German and Dutch blood. Is she latina? Yes, she is, even though she's blonde/white/blue eyed.

    - Sofia Vergara. Is she hispanic? YES, because she has Spanish background AND she is from Colombia, which was colonized by

    I think the reason why this is so confusing is because there's a lot of bias and ignorance when people talk about these things. Some people assume that because it is a very specific ethnicity, everyone should look the same. But an ethnicity is not purely related to skin color and traces, it's also about culture and social roots.

    Do not confuse with race.

    (Sorry for being too repetitive and annoying)

  15. This preoccupation with race and ethnicity is becoming such a boring overcomplicated affair
    It use to be she's Colombian leave it at that.