A few years ago, I realized for the first time what it meant to be mixed.
Growing up, I rested assured in the knowledge that at any point in time, I could “claim” one heritage more than the other – I could transition seamlessly from white to black to Latina without anyone being the wiser. I wore this like a bullet proof vest. In a city full to the brim of ethnicity and “culture”, I would never have to fit just one mold. I would never have to face the universal fear of exclusion – at least not where my race was concerned.
I attended a private, predominantly white high school on the Upper East Side, and despite my new exposure to a world in which I seemingly had no definable role (other than the “nanny” – but that’s a post for another day), for the most part I remained blissfully unaware of the racial microaggressions that occurred on a daily basis. I had my group of minority friends. While we battled with the socioeconomic exclusion that naturally flourished in such an environment, we rarely were confronted with our ethnicity. The lines of division separated those who could afford expensive parties/weekend trips out of the country/summer AND winter houses from those who could not – and in the land of the Have-Nots, race simply played second fiddle to our seemingly never-ending navigation of socioeconomic structure. The fact that we were the only eight minorities in the entire grade was a laughing matter; that students felt the Financial Aid fund was less important than putting art on our school walls was not.
When I went to my PWI college, things shifted drastically. There was no student union for broke kids, financially needy students, us poor folk. Most of the time, no one talked about money at all. Whereas in high school, it was safe to assume if the student was a minority they were thereon some sort of scholarship, in college I met international students (brown and black like me) who had enough money to buy my entire family. And suddenly, the racial divisions began. There were the Latino-American students – students who craved to remember their roots, Mexicans and Salvadorans and Puerto Ricans who came together weekly to speak Spanish and eat arroz con pollo and dance and joke about abuela with her chancleta. There were also the foreign Latinos – students “fresh off the boat” from Spain and Argentina who wanted absolutely nothing to do with OLAS or the Latino-Americans. This seemed true of almost every racial group – CASA and JASA (Chinese-American and Japanese-American, respectively), ASA (African Students) and BSU (Black Students) seemed to have universally different interests. There were also “Latino-“, “Black-“, and “Asian-” interest sororities and fraternities – each of which commanded a certain mold, a certain ‘type’ of individual.
For the first time ever, I was supposed to choose. And as a mestiza (Afro-Latino and White) from the ethnic quilt that is NYC – I had no idea where to begin.
Therein began my exploration of race in the United States. It fascinated and overwhelmed me – I took classes about it, I read books and blogs and found myself altogether consumed by how this “social construct” defines everything we do. This blog is simply my attempt to make sense of it all. I encourage you to participate – I am approaching this as a by-stander. I have no right answers, no real direction to be honest. Hopefully, you, like myself, are also simply trying to understand and navigate this vast and endless ocean. If so, I bid you welcome. Have a cup of tea. Stay a while. Comment, share, and enjoy.
I leave you with a quote, and also the source of inspiration for this blog title.