Brown on the outside, white on the inside

by Cristopher Rubio

I vividly remember a particular day as an undergrad at the University of Texas. Myself and a couple of friends involved in Latino community organizations were invited to attend a luncheon to honor the recipients of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s scholarship.

As we looked around the room at all of these young Latinos, we realized that we had never seen any of them at any of our community service events, a Latino Leadership Council meeting, or a mixer. We concluded that we were surrounded by Latinos that weren’t really Latinos. We were surrounded by coconuts.

“Brown on the outside, white on the inside, you’re a coconut.”

You may have experienced this firsthand, heard someone been called this, or even said it to someone that didn’t fit the mold of however being “Latino” was defined.

As much as I hate to admit it, I did it again very recently, and I bet a lot of other people did too.  This month’s Latina Magazine cover featured 15 prominent Latinas. So what was one of the first things we probably discussed after seeing the cover? “Selena Gomez shouldn’t be on that cover!” or “Rosario Dawson is only half Latina, but she’s down for the cause so she’s cool.” And so on. (To be fair, many celebrities in Hollywood use their Spanish surname for the wrong reasons. They become somewhat famous and suddenly remember that they had a grandma that once went to Puerto Rico. Not all celebrities, just some.)

However, celebrities and the people we interact with everyday are two different things. Looking back on the day of the luncheon, it was very wrong of us to label those kids ‘coconuts.’ We didn’t know if they volunteered to translate for Latino families or if they mentored kids in east Austin. For all we knew they may have been even more down than we were!

That’s why we should think twice before dropping the ‘c’ word.

What I’m saying is: who are we to judge? Is there someone out there who is just the right amount of Latino? A brown reference point-person, so to speak. Everyone who falls under this person on the scale is not brown enough and everyone above this person is brown enough.

For those Latinos that don’t identify at all with the community, that’s cool. To be honest it’s probably not that person’s fault in the first place. But if someone benefits from their ethnicity or their surname (like a Hispanic scholarship) and they don’t give back to the community in some fashion, that’s not cool. You’re either Latino or you’re not, but don’t choose to be brown at your convenience. Don’t take from the cookie jar without putting something back every now and then.

And for those of us that are always pointing the finger, judging others for not being Latino enough, remember that there’s always someone that’s even higher on the “raza scale” than you. Someone else that just might consider you a coconut.

To learn more about Cris, visit El Kamino Real.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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9 Comments to “Brown on the outside, white on the inside”

  1. I was called a coconut by an ex-girlfriend because I don’t like Tejano music. Tejano, all sounds the same to me.

    • Nooooo!! Tejano music is great!! HAHA, yea I can totally see how it can be annoying though. Well if it makes you feel any better probably 99% of Latina/os hate Tejano as well.

  2. Maybe I’ve been living in a rock or don’t fraternize with enough Latinos, but I’ve never heard the term coconut used in that reference neither have I been called one. But I have been conflicted with not feeling Latina enough and in the same breath, accusing a Latino of not being Latino enough for not speaking the language! Talk about hypocrisy! This post is insightful in that respect because we’re Latino, we have the roots – even if we don’t speak the language and we support the Latino community in our own way as well as needing to check ourselves before we judge our folk.

    • I completely agree with you. It is not your fault you don’t speak the language, there was once that many Latino families did not want to speak “Spanish”;”Castellano” when they immigrated to the USA because they wanted to be accepted more and mix into “American” society and this includes all other cultures that have immigrated to this country. Being Latino is something to be proud of, and with a lot of persistence I taught my kids to speak, write and read my mother language. You are never too old to learn, you have it in your roots…where there is a will there is a way!

  3. What about guys like me who are anglo [ethically speakng]- who grew up on the Border in Laredo and were acculturated and assimilated into the Latino culture-does this make me a” reverse” coconut-white on the outside-Brown on the in. Some Latinos I have come across in Dallas don’t have a clue when i drop a slang term or phrase or two that we use in Laredo or that is common to the Border. Are they less latino than I am-or am I just another g ___cho who happens to speak Spanish and know the Latino ways. Being Latino is a state of mind heart and soul and if it is defined as such I am in.
    BTW- I am honored greatly to have been asked by Dona Adelfa Callejo to office with her [I am an independent practitioner of Law]. She is a tremendous teacher and wise politician who cares-deeply about The Latino population in Dallas.

    • Very good point! I kinda feel the same way as well. I have many White, Asian-American, African-Americans who show a true appreciation of our culture or even were raised in our culture as well. To me personally I’d rather associate myself with someone that loves and appreciates Latino culture and is not Latina/o than someone who is Latina/o and doesn’t appreciate or even demeans the Latino culture. But yes “being Latino” is “a state of mind, hear and soul” as you put it!

  4. Hopefully, Latina magazine took an extra step and highlighted what these Hollywood Latinas are contributing to our communities/causes (other than their own fame & glory). I stopped purchasing the magazine years ago, because it catered to a specific type of Latina (who I couldn’t relate to).

    As a brown-skinned Newyorican, with parents from La Isla, it’s been a tough & long road recognizing where I fit in within Latino circles. Thanks to a young boricua who forced me to use and enhance my Spanish language skills, I proudly speak out whenever and wherever possible about nuestra cultura with pride! Each one of us has something unique to offer the world. The bottom line is that we’re all products of our own upbringing. If you’re one of the lucky ones, your story will include a rich and beautiful experience filled with cultural tradition, and not merely a Latin surname of convenience.

  5. For me, being a Latino is like being a non-practicing Jew. I was born this way, but it doesn’t really affect my life. It’s not that I’m ashamed of being Latino, anymore than I am ashamed of being heterosexual, but my world and my perception of it doesn’t revolve around being Latino; I still speak Spanish (not espangles, my dad would beat my @zz!) and I’m down with frijoles, tortias, and queso fresco, but I see myself simply, and solely, as an American – no hyphens involved and no real interest in the culture of “the Old Country.”

    I guess that makes me a ‘coconut’ to some, but since my self-image is self-determined, and doesn’t require anyone’s approval, I don’t care what they think.

  6. “To [those] who don’t identify at all with the community, that’s cool… But if someone benefits from their ethnicity or their surname (like a Hispanic scholarship) and they don’t give back to the community in some fashion, that’s not cool.”

    Wow. This is somewhat ironic to read this article just because I had literally been talking to a friend of mine about how some Blacks, as well, appear to conveniently claim “heritage.” To me, that seems to slightly parallel this idea of a “coconut.” Crazy how the similarities between Black & Brown continue to make themselves known.

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