I Don't Know What Color I Am

Unity Conference Raises Questions About Hispanics and Race

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Laura Martinez Laura Martinez
A few days ago, as thousands of journalists gathered in Chicago for the 2008 Unity Conference, a Mexico City-based magazine editor called and asked me if I would attend and, most importantly, if I would be willing to file a story from the event. For the uninitiated, Unity: Journalists of Color is an organization "advocating fair and accurate news coverage about people of color." It is made up of more than 10,000 members and counts among its partners the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Native American Journalists Association.

"Count me in!" I said. Not only am I a member of the NAHJ, but there are never enough excuses to go to Chicago. But right before I jumped on the assignment, the guy asked me -- in Spanish, of course, and quite politely -- what exactly it meant to be a "journalist of color."

¿De qué color estamos hablando exactamente? ("What color are we talking about, exactly?") he asked.

I paused for a while -- a long while -- only to realize that I couldn't come up with a good answer, at least not one that would satisfy a Mexico City-based editor who expected a quick, clear explanation to what seemingly was a legitimate, straightforward question. In a matter of seconds, I realized that after almost 10 years of living in this country, the concept of "color" was no longer shocking, nor unexplainable to me. The logic, I thought, was quite simple: If you are not white, you qualify to be "colored." But the definition, of course, can be tricky: My father is a white, almond-eyed Spaniard from Galicia; my mom was the granddaughter of blond, blue-eyed French immigrants to Jalisco. As a result, I'm sort of a "discolored" whitey who happens to be Mexican and a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which I guess makes me a "persona de color." Or at least that is so as far as Unity is concerned.

Still struggling to find the right words, I told him that in the U.S. a "colored" journalist (are we persons?) is, well, not white. But soon after saying it, I found myself wondering why that's so. "White" is another color, after all.

¿Eres, pues, periodista de color o no? ("So ... are you or are you not a journalist of color?") he asked -- though this time it was clear he was just making fun of me.

"I don't know," I said. "I guess I just want to go to Chicago. Am I getting the assignment or not?"

"We'll get back to you on that one," he said, and then mumbled something about cuts in travel expenses, the state of print media, etc., etc.

In the end, I didn't attend. And although I heard the closing remarks by Sen. Barack Obama were truly moving, I wasn't able to find out if my color qualified me to mingle with such a crowd. I guess I'll have to wait for next year to find out.

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Read more from Laura daily at Mi Blog Es Tu Blog.
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