Editor’s note: Kayla Ludlow, a college student who is proud of her Hispanic heritage, shares she does not look Hispanic due to albinism. Read on to learn how Kayla publicly dispels stereotypes.
Kayla Ludlow loves being a Latina. She’s proud of her Hispanic heritage – her father is from Ecuador – and even though her parents split up when Kayla was young, her American-born mother made sure to teach Kayla about her heritage, including encouraging her to learn Spanish and take Latin dance classes.
But people don’t always believe Kayla when she tells them she’s Hispanic. That’s because she was born with albinism, so even though she has all of her father’s features, she’s fair-skinned and blonde. Kayla says she inherited the condition – which means the body produces little or none of the pigment melanin – from her paternal grandfather. In fact, on one of her visits to Ecuador she was able to speak with her grandfather about his life with albinism.
“I wanted to listen to his story and his tips, so that was really cool,” says 20-year-old Kayla. “Although I wasn’t raised in a Hispanic culture, I’m Hispanic – and some traits from my father pop out every once in a while.”
Living with Albinism
Like many people with albinism, Kayla has vision loss caused by the lack of pigment, which can’t be corrected with glasses or surgery. She also has nystagmus, which is involuntary shaking of the eyes, caused by her albinism. Kayla sometimes struggles with depth perception and hand-eye coordination, and her eyes are very sensitive to bright light because of the lack of pigment. She still has some vision, although she has to get really close to objects to see them, especially reading materials in small print.
“It was a challenge in school, but I had a great vision advocate,” Kayla says. “She got me a closed-circuit TV and made sure I was always in the front of the class, and had dome magnifiers, monoculars – all that stuff to enlarge things and bring them closer.”
Now in college, she is pursuing a degree in communications with an emphasis in digital media.
Kayla already has a great head start in communications and digital media. She’s very active on TikTok, where her account, @kayla_lud, has more approximately 450,000 followers and 7.8 million “likes.” Her bio states that she’s there to educate about albinism and answer questions – and that’s exactly what she does.
“When I tell people I’m Hispanic, about 80% of them don’t believe me,” she says. “I want to educate and spread awareness about albinism.”
For example, while Latin dancing Kayla has met many people from Hispanic countries – and their responses to her own heritage were skeptical.
“Guys would ask me to dance and I’d ask where they’re from,” she says. “When they asked me I’d say I’m from America but I’m half Ecuadorian. So many people would just stop and laugh and I’d say, ‘No, I’m serious,’ and I think about half of those people walked away and didn’t believe me.”
In addition to TikTok videos that share facts about albinism, Kayla created a side-by-side photo comparison of how she looks in real life and how she would look if she had her dad’s dark skin tone and hair color.
“I get a mixed reaction,” she says. “Some people don’t believe it, some people think it’s funny, and some people think it’s really cool.”
On TikTok, Kayla is also mindful of people’s different accessibility needs. She includes captions for people with hearing loss and puts comments in a larger font for those with vision loss like her.
Prouder Than ever to be Hispanic
As she’s gotten older, Kayla says she’s embraced her Hispanic side more, partly because it didn’t come up that often when she was a child. Her visibility on TikTok gives her an opportunity to help people understand albinism, which she says is good for everyone. But it also demonstrates an important point about being Hispanic.
“Even Hispanic people without albinism can be lighter-skinned, and people don’t always believe them, either, when they say they’re Hispanic,” Kayla explains. “I’m putting the idea out there that if you don’t look exactly like a stereotype, it doesn’t make you any less a part of a particular culture. Being able to embrace your culture and where you’re from is really powerful.”
National Hispanic Heritage Month in the U.S. runs from September 15 to October 15.