Tag Archives: race

The Trouble with Passing

Hi, My name is Shannon Murphy. Born in Ceiba, Puerto Rico and I call Luquillo, Puerto Rico home. I was raised between there and Pennsylvania. I am a Taurus. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand. I have a Bachelors in Psychology. And I am Latina. But I am also passing. Now for those of you who don’t know what Passing is. Here’s the Urban Dictionary Definition, “When a light-skinned person is so close to the white race, it seems as if that person is white.” And in the current state of the Union, life is without a doubt easier when you are lighter.

Now Passing comes with a series of benefits that I take advantage of, even sometimes unknowingly. These benefits usually stem from White Privilege. A matter that is very divisive and that many people try to avoid talking about, to the point where after reading some of the definitions I have decided to not even include it because it would’ve just stemmed a troll war. But any way…What are these benefits?

Well for starters, when I speak Spanish, the remarks from the Caucasian race tend to be something along the lines of “Wow, it’s good to speak two languages. How did you learn to speak it with no accent? Did you study abroad?” Versus when my darker mother, or even ethnically ambiguous sister speaks Spanish they get the response, “This is America, speak English”

Another? When I’m in the mall, and the alarms go off, no one questions me, security hasn’t ever been called and I’m told it’s just a machine error and to have a good day. But when this happens to someone darker, they get to be pulled aside, security comes around, and have their bags and receipts checked.

Or my personal favorites, the joy of being able to wear dreadlocks, or a head-wrap without a problem. Getting to dress up the way I choose, with big door knocker earrings, and F*** Me Lipstick, in a plaid shirt, leaning like a Cholo, without a second glance. While those who pass by would say that I look “bohemian”, “exotic”, “ironic” and “Urban” cause they think they may have seen Kylie Jenner wear the same things. While those with more melanin are questioned on their cleanliness, their affiliations, their religion, and their legality. I get to be tattooed and not have anyone question the ink for the way they look, for their meanings, are they gang related? No, they’re expressions of me. But for other Latinos, they could mark you as a banger.

Because I am passing, no one really questions my ability, my prerogatives, my reasons for doing anything or being anywhere. I am just simply allowed to exist when I want and where I want because I am Passing. But I try to be vocal for those that don’t have these privileges in the least white-savior way possible, cause at the end I am not white, I don’t identify as white, and I will never identify as white. I am Latina, I was raised with Spanish music, eating Spanish food, asking for “bendiciones”. When I was sick, I got vaporub, when I was bad I got “La Chancla” and when people commented on my hair I was told I was lucky I didn’t have “Pelo Malo” even though that isn’t a thing . I have explained plenty of times that I know my privilege. I am a light skinned Latina, who speaks English with no accent, and my code-switching is at the top of it’s game, and my name is violently Irish causing no immediate conflicts.

The fact that I can be abundantly open with my emotions and never really have to check myself. I can say borderline whatever I want, and criticize however I please and when I am critiqued, I will be judged by what I have said and nothing more. My race will not be a factor, the way I speak will not be a factor, and the color of my skin will not be a factor. I will not be labelled as the “Crazy Latina” or the “Feisty Puerto Rican”.

The trouble with Passing is the fact that I am given privilege that others deserve more than me. Minority stories and experiences have value and should be heard and the fact that there have been numerous times in which that story has to come out of the white filter to be accredited is simply wrong. Minorities want to be a part of the narrative, they have worth, and lessons that can be learned through them. So when one is told that their experiences aren’t enough and aren’t valued until the white community has decided to validate them, well that is infuriating.

The problem that affects me most directly is I have the privilege to exist in two worlds but never fully in one. I could make my life easy and pass forever, take full advantage of a system that will be in my favor for the foreseeable future, but my roots are too strong for that, I stand with my people through thick and thin as they have for me. But when I come to exist in the Latino world, there’s always something just not 100% right about me, like a photocopy where the ink ran out and a small piece is missing. My name will continue to keep me sticking out like a sore thumb until I say my mothers maiden name and remind people “Soy Berrios”, with the rolled “R” but then sure enough at any party they may ask me to dance, and I love dancing, but that’s when Murphy comes out and my legs don’t connect to the ground in the right time, with the same rhythm and in the same tempo as my partners. Having dancing partners walk away from me because I don’t know how to salsa correctly, or dance bachata, I can’t even manage a simple two step. It makes me obviously the Gringa, and then comes the name calling, being Gringa, Blanquita, y Guera. When that happens I don’t know what to do. When I get harassed about being Latina, I can handle that. I have every fact down, and every rebuttal at the ready. But when I am called White, I feel myself shrink, I don’t know what to do or what to say because in my head I’m not white.

That Raza isn’t me. I benefit from the case of mistaken identity no doubt, but that’s not who I am. Soy Boricua, y esto es todo. But as long as I will continue to be am exception to the rule, and I continue to pass, best believe I’ll use that privilege to be the speaker for those who can’t. Because in the Trump-Era, the minute an accent is detected it quickly becomes discredited; when a foreign name is involved then the story behind it and the experiences are null and void, when you aren’t the perfect shade of white your voice and the mic you hold runs the chance of being turned off.

Until the day comes where every voice is heard the only advice I have is never be complicit, stand up, make yourself be heard. If you claim to be an ally do so in the fullest sense of the word, share the burden.

Multi-Cultural Shock

So where are you from?

It’s a question that has both plagued me and amused me since before I can remember and the answer usually starts like this, “well……so I’m Puerto Rican mixed….Dad’s German and Irish, hence Shannon Murphy ya know….but I was born in Puerto Rico by a Puerto Rican mother, raised in Pennsylvania, as you can hear by my lack of accent, and I’ve always been back and forth my whole life”. Most people have follow ups,

“So how’d you get into the country?” Well by row boat duh.

“Are you here on a visa?” Baby I’m everywhere with my visa, and mastercard, and amex….I should really work out my credit card debt…..

“So are you worried about Trump?” Aren’t you?!

But I digress. Point is, home is tricky for me. Am I home in Pennsylvania with my mother and sister? Where there’s a Wawa on every corner and we chant for the birds? E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!! Or am I home when I am among the Islanders? Reminding you we are Boricua pa’que tu lo sepas, chirping with the coqui’s and filling our tummies and souls with cocina criolla.

Moving to Puerto Rico is about as easy as walking into your favorite store on payday, you can have anything and everything you want. The people will welcome you with open arms and even more open kitchens. You are welcomed with a “Siéntate vecino, dímequé pasa?” You might be put off by how loud everything is but let me tell you joy is not a quiet emotion. All the noise, the reggaeton, the bomba, the yelling, baby that’s all audible joy, that’s my people. This culture is sweet and easy and to the point.

Moving to Pennsylvania on the other hand is like walking into a Wal-Mart that has one T.V. on Black Friday and you only have 50 cents. Since moving back to PA I’ve learned a couple of things.

~DISCLAIMER~ Just because I say this doesn’t make this all true, this isn’t all Pennsylvanians, this isn’t all Americans. But this is my perception, and my perception is my reality.

So I’ve learned in PA, what matters when you talk to people?

Is it my grammar? Not really, I speak a sancocho mix anyway so that doesn’t matter.

Is it my stories? Cause I have a quite a few, want to know what the docks in Lisbon look like in summer? Or how I hung my delicates out of a Paris Apartment window to dry? How about I delight you in the story of how I turned Jimmy Buffett and his entourage away simply because I didn’t know who he was and I didn’t have time to care.

No, none of those? Catch me on a drunk day, you’ll have to hear them no matter what.

But again, what matters when you talk to people in Pennsylvania? Specifically in it’s suburban hell. Here’s some of my prime examples. “What university did you go to? Because my daughter went to a much better one.” ($105,200 at least)

“Oh, you stay in hostels? I could never sleep in a room with a bunch of strangers, that’s for people who don’t work enough to afford a nice vacation. My husband though just went to Los Angeles for an important meeting but he’s going to spend the week there for fun.” (FYI, he’s probably cheating on you. Also, $2,039 for the flight alone)

On a lucky day when I’m eavesdropping I also might hear something along the lines of, “Well I just had to have the new Tesla, my Mercedes is old” ($69,200)

Now what is my point in all this? Ultimately it is to show the insane consumerism in suburbia, and how it is absolutely ludicrous to think that name-dropping one’s “superior” or name brand items is completely asinine and that shade of green you may see me turn isn’t envy, it’s disgust. Am I saying that if you are financially capable that you should not have nice things? No. But to define your entire personality around your materialism and narcissism is in short. Obnoxious. These are the quality conversations I have had the “joy” of having since moving to housewife county.

This is nothing short of a culture shock to me. Yes, I was raised in the states for quite some time, but somehow this culture of grasping and clawing for the newest, most boujee item is not part of me. As I write this, it’s on a broken tablet/computer, I don’t even wish for an Apple Computer because why. My computer now is working the same way for me that a Mac would.

The weather is cold in Pennsylvania and read the disclaimer if you’re offended, but the people are close to the same. Yes, there are good people here but unfortunately my interactions with them have been far and few. So was I raised in Pennsylvania, yes. Am I a Pennsylvanian, a Philadelphian, a yankee? Hell to the no. I am Puerto Rican, straight from my lips, Irish looking as they may be. I am Boricua, straight from the colorful Caribe to your gated community. Enjoy my stay.

And between you and me, I am legal, educate yourself.