I’ve never really thought of myself as a person of color. I’m Hispanic, on both sides of my family, but that’s not necessarily what people see.
Mom has a look that blends into the swarthy shades of whiteness that define the region surrounding New York City and even more so South Florida, invisible against the Italians whose struggle made southern European shades acceptable in the United States. But she has the low hairline and dark curls that made Carmen Cansino unacceptably “Mediterranean” for movies in the 1930s, the traits that led Cansino to undergo electrolysis, skin bleaching, and relentless hair dye to become Rita Hayworth, finally “white” enough for success. For those who know what to look for, she is unmistakably Hispanic; to everyone else, she’s another dark-haired white woman who speaks with a Hoboken accent when she’s excited.
And Dad? Dad has the ruddy complexion of someone who has worked hard jobs in the sun for decades, but it’s there all the time, even in the years he spent managing grocery stores and apartment buildings. His edges are sharper than hers, his accent different enough that I hear it as no accent at all until he slips a little Cubanism into his sentences. He, too, could tell people he was Italian or Greek or unqualified “white” if he wanted to, except that he actively cultivates the most Cuban mustache in the history of Cuban mustaches. He, too, is invisible to people who don’t know what Hispanic people look like, or who don’t talk to him.
In the places where I’ve been, middle-aged white folks who spend a lot of time in the sun get talked to in Spanish first. Sometimes, they answer in Spanish.