Whenever JoJo Ramos visits his "meemaw," he never forgets to ask for "bendición," a Spanish blessing, in his Appalachian-Florida dialect before crossing into the heart of her home in Belle Glade.

He calls himself a "hillbilly" Puerto Rican in honor of his mixed heritage. His kids, Ramos says proudly, are a "quarter Porto."

When Vibert White sways his hips to the "tu-cú" rhythm of the conga slap, people ask where he learned to salsa.

Never mind that the dark-skinned Afro-Latino has known the steps since boyhood.

Fair-skinned and blue-eyed, Karen Toledo endured being called a "gringa" by her olive-skinned relatives and mistaken by outsiders for everything but who she says she is: a Puerto Rican woman, a Latina.

Looks are deceiving when it comes to Hispanics and those of multiethnic backgrounds. Their personal histories and multiple heritages confuse and disrupt narratives, challenge and transform identities and inject nuanced perspectives into uniquely American issues.

The shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last February in Sanford was initially thought to be an American tragedy born of racial injustice. White and black.

But that narrative was contorted when his shooter, George Michael Zimmerman, identified himself as a Hispanic man of Peruvian heritage.

For some, that changed nothing: Trayvon was dead, and Zimmerman wasn't arrested until weeks later when international outrage reached critical mass.

For others, it became a different story devoid of any racial undertones: Zimmerman himself was a minority, they reasoned, so he couldn't possibly be racist or hold prejudices against other minorities.

And yet for most, it was too perplexing to bother with: Why can't we all just be Americans?

The ambiguity brought about by Zimmerman's blurry racial and ethnic identity is not unlike the questions that an emergent generation of Americans encounter, expound and endure every day in their jobs, barrios, houses of worship, schools and social circles.

The labels just don't fit.

"You're Hispanic, right?"


"And white?"


"And Peruvian?"


Sanford police Investigator Chris Serino questioned Zimmerman about his identity three days after he mortally wounded the unarmed black teenager.