I was the light skinned, light haired, gringo in a family of dark skinned, dark haired, obviously Hispanic people. Me? You never really could tell quite what I was. I remember once in high school, in art class, a kid named Jarrod asked me "What's your momma look like?"
I showed him a photo and he exclaimed with disgust and dismay " I didn't know your momma was a (insert the "N" word here)!"
I was appalled. Not that he thought my mom was black, I could care less about color. I was appalled that had my mom been black, he felt it was OK to say something like that to me. And I was appalled that someone thought that it was less than normal for my mom to be anything other than white. Because I was a part of her. I was also a little bit of something other than white and that meant that what he felt in that initial reaction, he also felt toward me. It was strange and awkward for me to realize that there really was such a thing as prejudice toward me and my heritage. Even if it was misplaced racism, due to a miscalculated ethnicity.
My other gripe with racism and my mixed ethnicity is that being so white washed as I am, so often most people don't even realize that I come from such a background. They see me and just think that I'm another white, country girl, from Nashville. They hear my accent, and think it's perfectly safe to go right ahead and start saying things to me like how they just can't stand living in that apartment complex with all those Mexicans, or how the Mexicans are taking over, or the best one...someone said to me how he'd come across a Mexican while traveling," and you know, they all carry knives in their socks, and they'll cut you quick!" That was just last year...and he was the brother of an acquaintance. I can't hold against her what her brother said to me, but it does make it an uncomfortable situation now.
When I worked at the nursing home, my patient's family members would talk to me because their moms and dads and spouses could no longer speak. They often didn't realize my heritage either. I would get comments like " Those damned Mexicans at the McDonald's always screw up my order. I guess it's because they don't talk American."
Or once, I heard "I'm so glad momma has you taking care of her. She would just die if they sent one of those foreigners in here."
I never really knew how to react to those things. My mom never prepared me for it. She was always telling me to mark my ethnicity as white on forms because it would be easier. I never understood that. I always felt like marking white and not also marking hispanic was somehow lying about who I was.
I felt like it was a disservice.
I think my mother was a little bit ashamed of her heritage, and I think that's such a shame.
I remember once, just after high school, my friend said to me, Fortune Cookies, you should be PROUD of your ethnicity! Look at your skin and look at mine. Yours is so dark and pretty. You have family that lives in another country and speaks another language. That's SOOOO cool. All my family is right here. They're all white, and they all speak English. How dull is that?"
And that's when it occurred to me. I had this whole other part of me that I had been practically ignoring up until that point. It was right there in my face, yet I didn't see it.
How does that happen?
Later, I thought I felt out of place because I was a young budding lesbian growing up in an uber Christian, anti-gay, southern home.
Then I thought it was because I was an artist, being raised amid a family of athletes.
Still more introversion led me to believe that perhaps I felt out of place because I was always a pacifist, a hippie, and a liberal, in a family of ultra conservative, Rush Limbaugh worshiping Republicans.
Now I think it was a combination of all of those things that made me feel so out of place.
I'll be happy for the day when race doesn't matter to anyone anymore. When gender doesn't matter, and sexual orientation doesn't matter. All those prejudices stem from hate, and hate begets hate.
John Lennon was so right on. Can you imagine...