I am from Ecuador, but my race is not Latina or Hispanic.

When I decided to come study in the United States, I knew that my Ecuadorian culture and the American culture were different. This did not matter to me because I thought I would be able to become immersed in a different culture, learn about it and identify what aspects of my customs were different or similar from those of the United States.

I did experience some culture shock. I had to learn that I can’t salute perfect strangers with a hug or a kiss — I have to shake their hand and introduce myself. I experienced my first frat party, which was incredibly different from the parties I used to go to in Ecuador. When I went to a restaurant, I was surprised at how big the meal size was. 

What shocked me the most, though, was that in the United States, Latino and Hispanic are categorized as races.

I am incredibly proud of being Latina, of my culture and traditions. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I think that it’s part of what makes me interesting. But my race is not Latina or Hispanic. Latino and Hispanic are not races.

Being Latino only means being born in a Latin-American country, and being Hispanic means that one’s first language is Spanish. As a matter of fact, most Latin-American countries are diverse, multiracial and racially mixed.

In the Ecuadorian census, “Latino” isn’t even an option when choosing one’s race — mainly because it is not a race. People from Latin-American countries can be a number of different races, such as white, African-Ecuadorian, Afro-Brazilian, Mestizo —  which is the mixture between white-European and Ecuadorian Indian — and Afro-Panamanian, among several others.

According to the last census, 71.9 percent of Ecuadorians categorize themselves as Mestizos, because of the fact that Ecuador was full of Indigenous people before the Spaniards came and colonized the country.

I have had many experiences where people have questioned my race or ethnicity. I have been told, “I don’t believe you are from Ecuador. You’re teasing me. I know you are from somewhere in the States.” Another time I was told, “You really don’t look like a Latina,” and even though Latin America is not one continent as it refers to South America, Central America and the Caribbean, I was also told, “Wow, are you really Ecuadorian? You know, once I went to El Salvador. That’s close to Ecuador, right?”

Of all of these, though, the one comment that surprised me the most was, “You’re Latina? What flavor are you?” This question was particularly confusing.

I know that the people who asked me these questions didn’t mean to offend me in any way. They were just surprised that I came from a country that is so far away. I didn’t take these questions as attacks and I didn’t get offended. I was just mad at the ignorance that led to these questions. I just didn’t understand how someone could ask me if El Salvador is close to Ecuador when it is on a different continent. I didn’t understand how someone could refer to a country as a “flavor.”

My skin tone may be light, but that does not mean I’m not Latina. There isn’t a specific skin color for Latinos.

Latinos can be white, African-American, brown, pale, or tan. There are no specific traits that all Latinos have — we can have curly hair, or straight hair, blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes or hazel eyes. I don’t need to have brown skin to be Latina — I just need to be born in a Latin American country.