I Am Not an “Other”
I grew up in a predominantly white town which is pretty common and normal, except I was one of very few people who were not white when I was a kid. I often experienced weird racism, albeit about the incorrect races or ethnicities because people never know what I am (mixed people problems) 🤷🏽♀️ I say weird because I wasn’t really offended as much as I was confused. My mom is white, and I was raised by my white family. I didn’t have exposure to my dad’s family culture and heritage often enough to develop a sense of belonging. I hated that I was different than everyone and I wanted to be “normal.” 🤮
Some kids attempted bullying me about my mixed race when I was young, but I fought them 😑😒 Not good! I always won, though, so that did stop 🤷🏽♀️ The problem remained that I didn’t know how to be a mixed person 😬
For example, I didn’t know how to fill out the section on tests or paperwork that asked about demographics. I remember raising my hand and asking my white teacher what I was supposed to write down and she was stumped. It wasn’t her fault, there isn’t a lot of clarity in the instructions and “belonging” or sense of racial/ethnic identity is closely related to one’s family dynamics. We chose to fill in the bubble for “other” after a few minutes of contemplation. I went home and then asked my white mom what I’m supposed to fill in and received the same stumped response. We asked others and some said to fill out multiple bubbles including white/Caucasian and Native American/Indian/Pacific Islander. The part where it asks about ethnicity of Hispanic/Latino relates more to culture. I didn’t feel I belonged enough to fill in Hispanic/Latino at this young point in my life of 7 years old 🤷🏽♀️
Eventually, I began visiting my dad and family more often in Oklahoma for summers and holiday breaks. I learned more about my culture and heritage and began adopting more of those customs into my life back in Michigan.
I still experienced uncomfortable and inappropriate questions about my race and ethnic orientation which provoked me into having to respond to whether I "felt" more white or Mexican. Friendly note, don't ask mixed people this question or we will think you suck 🤷🏽♀️
Then becoming a teenager, something unexpected happened. I became "exotic" 😑 Ew. I also received compliments on my skin color ALL THE TIME. It's awkward being approached by a random person while with family or friends at a store and being asked, "what are you? Your skin color is so pretty, where are you from?" I am from MICHIGAN 🤣
I will clarify that there are appropriate ways to discuss demographics if you are wanting to get to know someone. Here are some tips: get to know them in a natural way of developing a friendship or relationship. Don’t demand facts that are personal within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone because that is off putting and will likely shut down future deep conversation. Be cool, chill with the excitement of “I’ve been to Mexico on vacation!” stories 🤣 I haven’t ever been to Mexico 🤷🏽♀️
In fact, I was stopped in Arizona once by border patrol and they immediately began talking to me in Spanish about whether I was traveling from Mexico. I stared blankly and asked, “what??” They then asked more questions in Spanish, and I said, “I have no idea what you’re saying.” The agent asked, “where are you from?” Bruh, I’m from Michigan. Then this led to questions about why I was in Arizona and a search of my vehicle due to being brown in the Southwest. After the search, I handed over my military ID because I thought it was funny to watch the agent seriously looking through the compartments for some sort of evidence 🤷🏽♀️ Their look of surprise at seeing my ID was priceless.
So anyway, the whole point of this very long post is that I have been researching why there is so much ambiguity for mixed race in the United States and low and behold, it’s because of racism 🤷🏽♀️ I’ve learned that the United States and Mexico had an agreement at the time of Texas becoming a U.S. territory that Mexicans would be given full rights as citizens. This issue presented problems because to have full rights, the people had to be considered white. Thus, Mexicans were instructed to identify as white on the demographics portion of the U.S. Census. Learning this information greatly bothered me because this means that my ancestors were given more rights than black individuals already living in the U.S. There were still discrimination and segregation issues. Mexicans were often tricked or coerced into deportation/repatriation to Mexico. The legal proof of identity and citizenship was absolutely necessary to avoid this situation.
As an adult, I am now fully committed to identifying as both white/Caucasian and Native American on demographics portions of forms and the Census. I do this because I am now fully educated on the indigenous tribes of my ancestors who were nomadic. My ancestors traveled from Mexico to Texas and as far as Colorado. I am not “just” anything and I’m not an “other.” I also proudly mark Latino/Hispanic as my family in Oklahoma has helped to teach me more about my heritage.
I have really cool ancestry that everyone else in the world also has to explore. In my case, I’ve traced my mom’s lineage to Norway, Germany, England and Scotland as far back as 1100 - that’s wild! On my dad’s side, I’ve traced our heritage to the 1500s when the Spanish converted indigenous tribes to Christianity. These documents are preserved as baptism records in the early missions. Based on these records, my dad’s heritage is most likely of the Jumano Nation which was once considered extinct by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Currently, Jumano Nation descendants have advocated for reinstatement in the State of Texas and are recognized as a legitimatized tribe. The U.S. still has not recognized this change, but education about heritage is taught by the Jumano Nation where they are based in Texas. Being a descendant of the Jumano Nation with record of ancestry, I get to apply for membership and my children will also be included.
These matters are important to me as a mother of “white passing” children. My daughters have certain privileges and biases they aren’t even aware of yet. Sometimes my daughter state remarks about skin color that throw me off guard. Then I realize that they are living the opposite experience as me when I was a child. They look fully white with a brown mom, so they have questions about our differences. These opportunities help me teach them about melanin and basic biology/heredity. I also realized that I want to do better at sharing all of our cultural heritage with my kids including our European and Native American/Mexican history.
Having this background knowledge of my ancestry also helps me respond to strangers inquiring about my origin in a factual and educational manner. Instead of feeling surprised/uncomfortable, I simply provide a few sentences explaining a simplified version of my ancestry. I then ask others about their heritage, and it promotes genuine connection and relatability.
So, why the photo accompanying this blog post today? I was inspired to write this post based on Snapchat filters that whitewash my skin tone and change my features. I know this is done to everyone and these filters bother people of all races/ethnic origins. My personal experience with them has been that it reminded me of when I was a young girl and wished I had “whiter” features 😑 I am so grateful now that I have better understanding of my heritage as well as developing a sense of pride of all my features 🥰 I am a whole person regardless of my DNA story.