Ethnic Identity vs. Experience

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When commentator Yvette Doss recently read the graphic novel La Perdida, she thought she would identify with its author, Jessica Abel. She was wrong. Yvette Doss is managing editor at Ciudad magazine.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now here's an entirely different kind of story about identification and being Mexican from commentator Yvette Doss.

Ms. YVETTE DOSS (Editor, Ciudad Magazine): The other day I ran across a new graphic novel called La Perdida, or The Lost Girl, by comics creator Jessica Able. I was thrilled.

It's about a 20-something half Mexican girl, Anglo mother, absentee Mexican father, who travels to Mexico City in search of her roots.

Wait, I said, I'm half Mexican. Here was a 30-something woman like me writing and illustrating a book about being half Mexican. The book turned out to be beautifully drawn and filled with evocative images that mirrored the protagonist's tortured state of mine.

Finally, someone who gets what it's like to grow up straddling two worlds and never quite belonging to either. It was as if someone had climbed inside my head and felt the torment I felt growing up.

I was in a 99.99 percent Mexican immigrant neighborhood in Los Angeles with a name like Yvette Doss. No, not Dos, it's Doss, rhymes with boss, and hazel eyes, and I looked to them like a gringa. And later heading out into the wider world, there I was with olive skin, dark curly hair, and muddy looking features, in other words, looking clearly ethnic, and always feeling like an outsider looking in.

Where was my tribe? I'd always wondered. Maybe Jessica Able, author of La Perdida, could be my new best friend. Turns out I was barking up the wrong graphic novel. Jessica Able didn't exactly write and illustrate an auto-biographical novel. I phoned her, we chatted. It turned out she isn't half Mexican at all. Her dad's from England. I had not found my new best friend. It was disturbing. I was bothered and I couldn't shake it. I began to wonder, is Jessica Able a culture vulture? Was she pilfering my experience? Robbing me of my story? Was this some kind of warped cultural appropriation?

Okay, who do I think I am anyway? The queen of the half Mexicans? Well, maybe? The field is wide open, isn't it? But since when is half Mexican a protected class in America? And isn't the whole point of being half anything that you don't really belong anywhere? So how can anyone lay claim to that?

As for Able, she told me her next book is a novel about a young Argentine girl who decides to become a journalist. Wait a minute. I'm a journalist.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Yvette Doss is managing editor at Ciudad magazine.

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