I was born in Latin America and moved here when I was 18. That officially makes me “Hispanic or Latino, regardless of race”, at least according to the 2000 US census. According to the 2010 census, I would be further characterized as “Mexican American or Chicano”. That also means that I am an “underrepresented minority in science”. This fact of course was not lost on my university when I was hired, and soon after starting my job I promptly ended up in a list of “faculty of color”. In fact, I am the only minority in my department, and one of a handful in my entire division. Now, to me “faculty of color” implies having brown or black skin. The problem is that, being Jewish, although I clearly am Mexican and my name is in Spanish, I don’t look Mexican. Which puts me in an awkward situation. Every September I get invited to a luncheon for incoming students of color, and every September I struggle whether to go or not, or whether to sign up to be a mentor for an incoming student of color. On one hand, I can relate as a minority, which I felt much more growing up Jewish in a Catholic country where the antisemitism is real and stereotypes abound. I remember we would occasionally receive pictures of Hitler in the mail, or swastikas would show up on a synagogue or Jewish school wall. Some of my friends would tell me that their parents told them that the Jews killed Jesus. But those were things you got used to and overall I really loved growing up in Mexico. I feel very close to Mexico, and feel very Mexican. My extended family still lives there. I get tingly all over when I hear Mariachis. I eat tortillas. So in that respect I can relate to hispanic students and I’ve been in the US long enough to feel what is like to live here as a hispanic. Which leads me to think that I could serve as a positive mentor to one of these kids. I am a strong believer in increasing the number of minorities in science and even run a small program for high-school kids over the summer aimed towards this goal. However I’m always nervous of the reaction an incoming minority student will have when she finds out this white dude is her faculty mentor. I would feel like an impostor.
And maybe I am agonizing over nothing. Maybe my perceived lack of “minority cred” is just in my head, and any student “of color” would be happy to have a dedicated faculty mentor that would look after them, take the time to listen to their concerns, encourage them and advocate for them, regardless of what this mentor looks like. I certainly have experienced that with my high-school kids, so why would this be any different? If so, why am still so uncertain about doing this? Does it have to do with my own prejudice of what a minority in this country should be like? I don’t know, these are not easy questions to answer… Maybe these guys can provide some insight: