I’m a Disgrace to my People


I’m a disgrace to my people. A shame to la gente. The “Is he? / Isn’t he?” exception to the rule of being Latino that leaves me neither theirs, nor yours.

I mean, look at my name: Eli Pacheco. Jewish? Mexican? Russian? Czechoslovakian?

What the hell is he?

I’m brown. Wood-colored, some say. (I prefer honey-roasted.) My dad called me a coconut: Brown on the outside, white on the inside.

I grew up in a white neighborhood. My “clan” is three generations American.

Yet, I can order lunch combo No. 3 and say “en-chee-LAH-thah de KAY-soh!” well enough to confuse Heather, the waitress.

I’m a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

But beyond that, I’m a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Shop with me in Walmart some Sunday. It’s like a Latin American Bazaar. But the Caucasians won’t speak to me. They figure I don’t e-speaka the English.

My Latin brothers try to speak to me in our native tongue, but quickly figure out that I’m picking up their conversation as quickly as Dan Quayle picks up sixth-grade spelling. So, that convo ends quickly, too.

Once, a trio of my brothers (hermanos) tried their best to converse with me in our language. When the attempts went dry, one turned to another and said in Spanish, “He can’t understand Spanish. Look at his face!”

Unfortunately, I know enough Spanish to place out of college foreign-language requirements … and enough to comprehend the back-handed insult, but nothing else being said.

I’m lousy (malismo) at being Latino.

I’m not sure what my blood’s supposed to be.

I know nothing of the dance of love (bailar de amor). I stunk at baseball. C’mon, baseball! It’s supposed to be in my blood. Only I’m not sure what my blood’s supposed to be.

I can’t even hang my sombrero (hat) on soccer. Ready for this?

Coach Eli has never played soccer (fútbol).

Like, ever.

While my brown-skinned brothers made like Ronaldo and Pele in the streets and in the fields, I intently worshipped a healthy white trinity of American football, Dinosaurs and Star Wars as a kid.

It gets worse.

I felt myself turn while in front of everyone’s eyes

As I attempt to find my culture and pass it on to my multi-cultural kids (Elise pointed out during a last World Cup men’s final between Spain and Netherlands that she – being both Spanish and Dutch – would win either way), I brought Elise to Las Delicias.

It’s a Mexican bakery on Central Avenue. We went for a daddy-daughter date years ago.

Ah, to be among my people. Home.

I bought her pan dulce (sweet bread) – it’s a Latino thing; nodded to the Hispanic baker (panadero) in that understanding way we Latinos do to each other; and even sprung for Jarritos, a brand of Mexican soda, for Fernando Valenzuela‘s sake.

Then the cashier (cajero) made the mistake of asking me a question in Spanish.

I felt myself turn white before everyone’s eyes.

Maybe the Latin blood lives on after all.

Especially Elise’s.

I stumbled. I’m pretty sure the music (musica) stopped. All eyes were on me. Suddenly, the place was full of banditos, who waited for the gringo to answer. “Pendejo (stupid),” they said under their breath.

I turned to Elise.

“Dad,” she said, “she wants to know if you want her to open the soda.”

¡Aye, dios mio! Maybe the Latin blood lives on after all.

Maybe I was just a carrier. Maybe I harbored the culture of my people and passed it valiantly to the next generation, to preserve the adventures of the Pacheco ranchers and the Morado farmers and the tales of Spanish conquistadors and Aztec warriors.

Suddenly, I feel very white again.

Eli Pacheco, you are Latino!

“Elise, mi hija, mi corazon – how did you know this?”

“I learned it on Dora, Daddy.”

Suddenly, I feel very white again.

latino quote



  1. Cynthia H says:

    I found myself nodding my head and laughing while I read! You sound so much like mis hijos, my own brand of coconuts. Lol!
    I love the way you write; your sense of humor…and am so glad that I read your guest post on The Dose of Reality blog! I can always use more laughter in my life, so I’m following you 🙂

    1. Nodding and laughing sure beats sobbing and shaking you head. As sus hijos can attest, life isn’t easy when you’re brown on the outside, white on the inside. You’d think someone would have made a sitcom about us by now.

      I was honored to have been on Dose of Reality for one of the best bloggers in the world, and I’m so glad you wound up over here – it’s pretty new over here, but I hope you’ll stick around and like it.

      Thanks Cynthia!

  2. queenofchaosmom says:

    This post made me laugh. My kids’ first names are Italian (my heritage), last name is Ukranian (my husband’s) and I have three blondies two with green eyes, one with blue eyes and one with strawberry blond with blue eyes that managed to get the 1/4 Scotch/Irish that I am. Dora…so funny!

    1. Thanks! I remember years ago when Vladimir Guerrero played for the Montreal Expos, I thought, “how messed up is *that* name?” Now, I have three girls with Anglo first names and Hispanic last names! The woman in the hair salon asked yesterday about my girls’ heritage, and I said, “it’d be easier to tell you what they aren’t, than what they are!”

      The cool thing is, when you mix up the races like this, you never know what you’re going to get.

      Aye, Dora. You make me look bad by comparison. Maybe I should start watching. And learning.

  3. Having a good laugh over your dilemma. I moved to the south from California, and for many years people would ask me “where ARE you from?” because my accent was neither here nor there. After 42 years, everyone now thinks I was born and raised in the south. I just let them think it. It makes life easier. Your road will be a bit longer I think. Good post! (posted on your profile page by accident too…don’t you just love when someone makes the right comment on the wrong page?)

    1. It’s definitely laughable. Since some of my ancestors are from the deep, deep (across the border) south, I think I qualify as a southerner. Thanks Cathy!

  4. Loved this post. My husband is 3rd generation Italian and speaks absolutely no Italian. So much of the culture in their family lives on–and so much of it is completely American! He teaches history and has a picture of his grandmother’s immigration card. My girls are technically half Italian, with blonde, blonde hair! 🙂 It’s good that your little one has Dora. Ha! One day we’re going to Calabria–and I read Strega Nona books to our girls. 🙂

    1. What I meant–after rereading–was that he teaches history and USES his grandmother’s immigration card in class. Just had to clarify.

    2. I think Swiper would know more Spanish than me. It’s so easy to become Americanized. I think everyone but one person in my generation in my family married white.

      American cheese trumps Parmesan and Jalapeno, apparently!

  5. Oh my gosh, I am cracking up! You are such a wonderful story teller. My husband’s father is from Iran and his mother is American, so he is a mix of different cultures as well. Although he didn’t grow up with his father or Iranian family (parents divorced) so he is only Iranian in his appearance.

    1. Thanks Tammy – this is my world, welcome to it! This melting pot we call America gives some of us all our pigment, and little of our culture. It’s like your husband and I are false advertising. I like the year-round tan though, I won’t lie.

  6. BAHAHAHA! Poor you! You need to get some Dora under your belt too it seems! (BTW I’m totally jealous of the year-round tan you mentioned in a comment, I have to sweat for mine).

    1. It ain’t easy being a coconut, Julie. I feel like a fraud. I had a good 3 years of Sesame Street before kindergarten – shouldn’t that count for something?

      The tan’s a nice thing, unless I’m driving around in a while neighborhood …

  7. susanzutautas says:

    What an entertaining post …. I so enjoyed it. So many times I get asked the question what the heck is your last name. It’s Lithuanian but by marriage only. My boys are definitely a Heinz 57 breed. They have of course Lithuanian from my husband who is 1/2 L and the rest is a mixture of Scottish and English. Then from me they get Scottish, Irish, and French. Yes I have quite a temper 🙂 Got a huge chuckle when I read about your Dad calling you a coconut 🙂
    Hope you’re having a nice Sunday.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Glad my life could offer you some entertainment! I think I assumed your name was Greek. And assumptions are always best when it comes to race.

      My girls find it easier to count the continents *not* included in their lineage – Africa and Antarctica for sure.

  8. You always tell such a great story. So real and relatable – we all have these things about us, don’t we?

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks Lisa. We might as well get all this real stuff out – and if you’re going to get it out, why not on a blog?

  9. Just love your sense of humor! I laughed so loud the hubbs paused his show lol

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks Anna. What show was he watching?

      1. lol, The Voice I think. He couldn’t hear the singing 😛

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