Tag Archives: Social Commentary

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.

Vows

To you, my travel partner.

I vow to always suggest new places, to never say any one spot is off limits, to never say a place is not interesting or overrated.

I vow to always keep up good appearances in front of your parents so they don’t think their child is traveling with a crazy person because that’s between us.

I vow to be your travel agent, bodyguard, photographer, historian, and food critic all in one. We will find the best places, the cheapest eats, the best photo ops, and in hostels I’ll ward off any drunks that try hitting on you. Worst case scenario we’ll say we’re dating.

I vow to always keep ideas flowing and our schedule exciting.

I vow to understand you might need a day off, staying in the hostel or hotel or airBnB isn’t against the rules and I won’t be mad at you for suggesting it.

I vow to make every free hostel breakfast feel like a five star bottomless brunch. But I also vow to keep watch while we take extra for the road.

I vow to be just as interested in all of the things you like, or at least fake it. Because even though I might’ve seen something a thousand times doesn’t mean it should discredit your first time.

I vow to understand your fears, and push you through them slowly but surely. You will always have a hand to hold while we explore the new, strange, scary and unusual.

I vow that I will make sure we always get to the airport on time, and if for some reason our flight is cancelled I’ll figure out how to get a new one.

I vow that if your luggage gets lost you can use mine, even though everything will be big on you.

I vow that my food is your food. We can always split meals and snacks so we can cheaply try more of the cuisine.

I vow that if we ever find ourselves in a foreign country I will not shame you for one day wanting McDonald’s or fifty cent ramen. Sometimes our stomachs want something like home even if we are in the land of tapas, or pasta, or sushi.

I vow to always stay adventurous and if we hit a point in our lives in which we can no longer travel together, I promise to always keep you updated, I promise to like all of your posts, I promise to continue to talk to your parents and remember your immediate family, I promise to continue any of our inside jokes, and I promise to offer more travel suggestions for us in the future.

Travel Gap

I was on the couch one day with my Grampa. I had just returned from Europe. He says “I don’t understand why you women are always out of the house now. Always doing something.” I say “We are catching up on the years we couldn’t.”

“Fair enough,” is his response.

I haven’t traveled everywhere yet, but there’s time and I frequently use books to fuel my travel obsession. Yet there’s something that I’ve noticed that continues to bother me as I wander through the Barnes and Nobles travel section. This week looking for Miami and Thailand information. Where’s all the books from women? I find a total of two.

-Wanderful, a book about how to look good in various cities, i.e, Stevie Nicks type wraps in New Orleans. (P.S. having been to NOLA I don’t suggest those type wraps on Bourbon Street or Jackson Square)

-We’ll always have Paris, a book I can only assume is about the enigma that is the famous city and one girls romance with the city or a man or both.

This week I settle with the books Havana by Mark Kurlansky and Travel as a Political Act by Rick Steves. But I’m still perplexed. What is the system that is making it so there aren’t more books written by women in travel? Or simply more books of substance by women? Women have stories to tell. Especially about travel. Are women simply not writing about their experiences? Or are they being written and told by a publisher that unless it coincides with the typical gender expectations that it won’t make it to the shelves. The female gender has made it past the point of being able to write only home and garden type columns, or what to wear to fit a certain body type.

Now it may sound like I am bashing the women who have books on the shelves. My response is no I’m not. I am simply stating that the whole picture of female travel is incomplete. Yes, there are women who go to these places and make it a top priority to look good, you can take a look back to when I had photoshoots done in Paris and Barcelona. But there are also female travelers who run around wearing the same pants for days on end, whose hair is matted into dreads and has blades of grass wrapped inside. There are women who travel with children and raise families on the road while being a digital nomad and supporting her two loves. These are stories that could inspire an entirely different group to see the world.

Women have stories and they should be heard. In the past 5 years I have had the pleasure of meeting a variety of female travelers, they create their own maps and guides. Women who have sailed around the Caribbean at eighteen, women who have hiked to Machu Picchu, women that pack up and move to Japan all while raising a child, and women that move to Australia just because her instincts told her to. To miss out on these stories is to miss out on half of the big picture. We are out there and we are seeing the same countries as men, but from a woman’s perspective the same country could be a different world altogether.