woman standing by a fence

The phenomenon of white women passing for different races for personal gain has also been a demonstration of how Latinidad allows certain individuals the ability to claim the term, and how it disproportionately benefits white people, white Latinos, and white-passing Latinos.

A clear example of this is the story of Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan first reported by Tina Vasquez in early 2021. Bannan presented as Latina despite knowing she was born a white woman and used this in her professional persona as a lawyer. She was heralded as the National Lawyer Guild’s first Latina president. In this role, Bannan used her inherent white privilege while also playing up the historic nature of having a Latina helm a nationally recognized organization.

Bannan attempted to argue that her claim of Latinidad came from being raised in a home with a Colombian stepfather, leading her to feel more connected to the Latino culture, and therefore, could claim it as her own lineage. By doing this, she glossed over the fact that she could turn her Latina identity on and off as it served her, and chalked Latinidad down to a set of experiences rather than the skin color, language, and other cultural nuances that come along with it.

Claiming Latinidad benefits those who are already accepted in Latinx culture. White passing Latinos, elites, and even white women like Bannan who have the ability to claim Latinidad are praised for their work whereas people who do not fit the white supremacist mold of Latinidad which includes non-Christian/Catholic practicing, indigenous, Black, and/or speakers of dialects other than what is considered “proper” Spanish, are often marginalized in comparison.

While Bannan and other women who claim a “chosen culture” say this is how they are authentically showing up in the world, it begs the question - Is it truly authentic to show up as a culture of your choice if you can walk away at any time and resume your regularly programmed white life in all other spaces?

Bannan’s cosplay isn’t just wrong because it takes up space and opportunities for other Latinas. It also serves to underscore the fact that she is accepted into a culture that has largely centered white skin and that to this day continues to marginalize indigenous and Black communities throughout the U.S. and Latin America.

There is an innate privilege in claiming Latinx culture without being questioned about it. Afro-Latinas are constantly questioned about their Latinidad, while white women like Bannan can claim it without any question at all.

While it must be acknowledged that after hundreds of years of colonization and human migration, Latinidad is a deeply nuanced and difficult social construct, it’s also one that unites people of Latin-American heritage across the U.S. Without that, who are we and how do so many cultures, races, and backgrounds identify? And yet, it must also be acknowledged that as long as anti-Blackness remains in our Latinx psyche, the culture will continue to prioritize white skin, while marginalizing and erasing the rest.

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