Help! I Just Found Out I May Not Be Hispanic. What Does This Mean for My Scholarship?

Advice on manners and morals.
April 19 2012 6:00 AM

Identification, Please

I’ve been offered a scholarship for Hispanic students—but it turns out I may not even be Hispanic. Does it matter?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My Hispanic surname is from my adoptive, now deceased, father. Since childhood I was told I was Hispanic. And unlike my blue-eyed, sandy-haired mother, I have dark hair and dark eyes and look Hispanic. This is the ethnicity that’s been checked off for me on all school and other forms. My parents always told me this might give me an edge for college admissions or some government jobs. I have recently found out I’m not Hispanic. My mother told me my biological father was Mediterranean, maybe Armenian. I make good grades and was accepted into a good college on my own merits. I've been offered a substantial financial scholarship available only for Hispanic students. Is it ethical to take it?

—Latin Not

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Dear Not,
There is one essential criteria people must meet in order to be considered Hispanic by the U.S. Census Bureau: That’s what they say they are. You were raised by a Hispanic father and have his last name. For most of your life you identified yourself as Hispanic. On your behalf the “Hispanic” box was checked on the relevant forms. If you want to shed your Hispanic identity, of course you are free to do so. But given your last name, people will still assume that's what you are, even if you are no longer checking the appropriate boxes. This Pew Hispanic Center report shows just how squishy and variable the term “Hispanic” is. I’m confident your college is thrilled to include you in their count of Hispanic students and doesn’t really want to know you may be thinking of yourself as Armenian. Given the price of tuition, a substantial scholarship is a blessing and you should claim it with equanimity. Let’s say you were applying to a school your adoptive father had attended that gave a leg up to children of alumni. Even though he wasn't your biological father, no one would dispute your right to that benefit. Maybe, too, you are selling short his legacy as a part of your identity by only looking at it as a way to gain an advantage. There are companies that take a DNA sample from a cheek swab and say they can tell whether you were descended from Genghis Khan.* These tests can indicate where your forebears may have lived, but the results also illustrate just how ambiguous this information is. It's possible your biological father’s Mediterranean ancestors even paused for a time in Spain. Sadly, your adoptive father is no longer here to cheer your accomplishments, but he surely would have been proud to know you will use your scholarship money well.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Dog Owner in Mourning

Dear Prudence,

Twelve years ago when I was a 14-year-old girl, my parents sent me to a tutor to improve my grades. The tutor was a man in his 30s. One evening he stood up, closed the blinds, and locked the door. He moved his chair next to mine, grabbed my hand and began stroking it. He didn't let go when I tried to pull away, and told me to focus on my work so that he could focus on what he was examining. After our session ended I told no one. But I convinced my parents to let me stop attending his classes, and rationalized that I had overinterpreted his actions. Then last month a teenager I mentor mentioned that a friend of hers had a tutor—this man!—who tricked her into getting into his car. He drove her to the mountains to “enjoy the sights” while he commented on her looks. I also heard that another girl had been hit on by him. As far as I know, none of this has been reported to the police. I'm unsure how to proceed. I don't want to approach these other victims directly. I'm afraid that if I tell the police what happened to me they'll say it was too long ago, there’s no evidence, or what happened wasn’t inappropriate. However, these recent events make me feel sick that this predator is still out there. What should I do?

—Distressed

Dear Distressed,
Please report him to the authorities—the police, the prosecutor’s office, or both. It could be that someone has a file of a few creepy incidents, such as the ones you describe, that have been collected over the years. It may be that each event hasn’t risen to the level of being actionable, but your information could be galvanizing, particularly since attitudes about what crosses the line have changed since you were his student. Think of how many girls since you have felt a chill up their spine when he flipped the blinds and closed and locked the door. This predator may think he has been careful to keep just to the right side of the law, but the episodes you describe could possibly constitute false imprisonment or kidnapping. Tell the police or prosecutor that you were moved to act because you just heard of two girls who were recently preyed upon. Say that you don’t know them, but do have their names and you need some guidance about revealing this information. It may be that you will want to let the teenager who told you about her friend know that you contacted law enforcement regarding the tutor. You can explain a similar thing happened to you and it’s time for action to be taken against him. What a malign manipulator he is, knowing how to gain girls’ trust, exploiting it, and then leaving girls, like you at the time, wondering if they somehow did something wrong or misunderstood what was happening. Imagine how many victims might come forward if he’s finally caught.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
Thomas, my good friend of over 10 years, is getting married shortly, and I was excited to attend with my significant other. Then he called and professed his love for me, rather than for his soon-to-be bride. I laughed it off as if it was a joke. (It wasn't.) Thomas and I have never been more than friends. I have never given him a reason to believe otherwise, and while I'm not close to his fiancée, I like her a lot and think they make a great couple. Should I tell her, even though I really don't want to? Should I even attend the wedding?

—Baffled Guest

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