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Not another “abuela”! History professor from a fancy California beach town fakes a Latina-immigrant grandma to boost her career

November 4, 2020

Photo: Furman University

It’s “abuela” time! Again!

Let’s see: There was the hoop earring-favoring (now former) professor Jessica Krug with her pretend-“Caribbean” grandparents supposedly surnamed “Cruz” except that the immigration officer couldn’t spell Spanish. Before that, there was author Jeanine Cummins, who also donned the giant hoops, to promote her best-selling boo-hoo novel about Mexican illegal immigrants, American Dirt, and claimed to have a “Puerto Rican grandmother” who had made her an expert on all things Mexican. Then came along Cummins’s nemesis, memoirist Myriam Gurba, who seems to have a Mexican “grandfather,” although she is actually half-Polish. In an article denouncing Cummins as a culture-appropriating gabacha, Gurba takes pains to reference her own “tía” in Guadalajara and other Hispanophone exotica in her family tree.

But my vote for most daring fake-Latina of all goes to Kelly Kean Sharp, lately a California-born assistant professor of African-American history at Furman University in South Carolina. That is, until her abrupt resignation after an anonymous soul on Medium pointed out that she was using the hashtags #chicana and #chingona (the latter seems to mean an obnoxious Latina female who wears even-bigger-than-usual hoops) on her now made-private Twitter account, where she claimed to have an impoverished “abuela” who had emigrated from Mexico to California during World War II and “worked hard so I could become a teacher,” as Sharp tweeted in 2019. On July 14, 2020, Sharp’s “abuela” made another appearance in a Sharp tweet. Robert Unanue, CEO of the popular Latino bean brand Goya Foods, had just announced his support of President Trump in the 2020 election, sparking a leftist boycott of Goya. The virtue-signaling Sharp weighed in:

“My abuela practiced brand loyalty to this product that’s now banned from my shelves.”

Hmm, except for one pequeño problem noted by Medium with Sharp’s Goya-gaga grandma:

[W]hen some of us looked into genealogical records, we found that Kelly had no grandparents who were born outside of the United States or had Hispanic names….The maternal grandmother who she claimed was from Mexico, was born in LA to white parents and was residing in the US during all the census records of her upbringing. A servant was even employed and living at the home according to census records. This grandmother eventually married a wealthy, white lawyer from Iowa.


Part of this ethnic tale has included an exploitation of her California heritage. She comes from the city of Encinitas, known to anyone from California for being a wealthy beach community, essentially a white suburb North of San Diego. On her current faculty bio page for Furman University, she highlights this background, even claiming that this hometown has a “majority-minority population”….Encinitas is not a majority-minority city. According to the 2010 census, it is 79.5% non-Hispanic white. The median income is $113,175, higher even than San Francisco. Perhaps the city was less white during Kelly’s childhood? But no, in 2000, when Kelly was about 10 years old, Encinitas was 86.6% white, with only 14.8% Hispanic of any race.

What I love about Kelly Kean Sharp was her sheer brazenness in all this south-of-the-border posturing. At least Jessica Krug and Jeanine Cummins tried to look Latina–or at least like a Latina stereotype–with the hoops, nose jewelry, crimson lipstick, and garishly bright-colored clothing. Not Sharp. No hoops for her. Indeed, all you have to do is look at Sharp’s faculty photo (see above), where she’s wearing a tasteful Lilly Pulitizer-style print dress, and see the tanned, upmarket Southern California beach bunny that she actually is.

Then there’s this Medium comment from someone who’s apparently acquainted with some of Sharp’s fellow students in graduate school at the University of California-Davis:

My understanding is that everyone who knew Kelly at Davis, knew her for three things: flaunting her massive diamond engagement ring, bragging about her vacations, and letting everyone know how her real estate lawyer granddaddy got rich screwing people over.

This led me to check out the online wedding site for Sharp’s 2017 marriage to the diamond-dowerer, Peter Sharp. Turns out that the happy couple’s wedding took place at Rancho Filoso (Spanish for “Sharp Ranch”), Peter Sharp’s 80-acre ancestral (since the 1920s) spread in Santa Paula, California. Then there’s the pair’s online gift registry, which mainly consisted of hints that the wedding guests might like to subsidize the newlyweds’ honeymoon at the plush Canary Kimpton Hotel in Santa Barbara

Now, I’m a Southern California native myself (Pasadena), and I also have 50 percent more Latina blood than Kelly Kean Sharp (mother born in Lima to parents of every variety of Hispanic ancestry). So I feel entitled to comment on all this recent abuela-mongering. And also to compliment Sharp on her genuine brass cojones. She’s the faking-est fake Latina of them all.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

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