How Much of Me Belongs to Me?

I am very mixed, but I don’t look it. My father is from Ecuador, and he’s about as mestizo as it gets. He has black hair, brown skin and hazel eyes, pointing to definite European ancestry from unknown relatives. My mother is from Chicago, born to a black father (whose mother was Louisiana Creole with Haitian and French roots, while his father was descended from enslaved people from Georgia) and a white (English and German) mother. My mom’s parents married in Chicago in 1949 when miscegenation was still illegal in many US states. They raised their six mixed race children in the predominantly black South Side of Chicago until 1966, when they moved to a white Chicago suburb. My mom grew up very aware that she was black, and always maintained a connection to and consciousness of being a black American. She and my father met in Venezuela, and my father immigrated to the United States at thirty five to marry my mom. My sister and I were born in San Francisco, California. We moved to the mostly white and Asian San Francisco suburb of Albany, California. We spoke Spanish at home and my dad made sure to tell us regularly that we were ecuatorianas, Ecuadorian girls. Meanwhile, my mom would not define her ethnic contribution to us in terms of us, but rather in terms of her parents. She would say, “Grandpa is black and grandma was white,” but she would not tell us, “You are black,” or, “You are white.” Thus, from an early age, we were taught to think of ourselves as Ecuadorians, but not necessarily as black or as white. We always called ourselves “a quarter black and a quarter white,” fracturing our black and white ancestry and making it a thing of the past, belonging only to our grandparents and not to us. Additionally, our school district had very few black students and didn’t have a sizable black community, so my sister and I had very few black friends. We had many white friends, and our mother is self-admittedly culturally white, so we knew white culture well. We had other mixed friends, mostly mixed white and Asian, who had many white and Asian peers (and other mixed white-and-Asian peers) to associate with on the basis of ethnicity and culture.

I didn’t really have black friends until I got to college, and no one ever assumes I’m black unless I tell them. Most Californians assume I’m Mexican, but I’ve been guessed to be Native American, Iranian, Filipina, Brazilian, Indian, Afghan, and many other ethnicities that I am not. But no one ever guesses I’m black. My mom once told me, “Never in a million years did I think a child of mine would have hair like yours,” because my hair is sleek and straight, compared to her thick, wiry curls. When asked, or if it comes up organically in conversation, I always u I am black. I’m proud to be black, and a big part of me feels like I missed out having grown up without a strong connection to black culture and black identity. At the same time, I definitely benefit from non-blackness, as much as I hate to even say that. A few days ago, one of my black friends here asked me if I consider myself a strong black woman, and I had to think about it. I consider myself strong, I consider myself a woman, and I am black. I ultimately answered no, because despite my being black and woman, I do not have the experience of being perceived and treated as a black woman due to my very Latina appearance and upbringing in a mostly white and Asian community.

I feel connected to black students here and to the black community, and I know now that I was missing out. I feel very passionately about and personally connected to issues that affect black people, and I don’t feel excluded from that category of black people. At the same time, I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to consider myself a total insider. However, it I know for certain that it bothers me when white-passing mixed people don’t identify with their “colored” side because it seems like a total rejection and they’re choosing the easy way out by pretending they’re white. I definitely want to avoid choosing to be an ally to black people, because I am a black person, even if others (and sometimes I) don’t always believe I am. By continuing my education in Black Studies and strengthening my connection to the black community here as well as to my black family, I think I’ll be able to develop my identity as a black woman and find the right place for me, just as I am.

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My parents and me, right before I left San Francisco for college.

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One thought on “How Much of Me Belongs to Me?

  1. As someone who is also multiracial, a lot of this sounds very familiar to me. Throughout my life, people have been very quick to assume my race or ethnicity, and these assumptions have ranged from various types of Hispanic to Persian or Indian. Living in New York City, I ride the subway frequently, and I am often approached by people who immediately start speaking Spanish to me. At school, I always assumed that people identified me as black considering most people knew I had a black father and because I had mainly black friends. However, one day in art class, the boy who sat across from me suddenly “realized” that “There were no black people in the class.” I identify as a black person for the most part, but am often told that I’m not black. However, I know that I am definitely not white either. I understand your feeling of not completely belonging or feeling like I cannot fully claim black culture, as I was raised by my white mother in a Jewish neighborhood. Seeing as we should not be forced to define ourselves as one race, it may be more accurate to define me as a mixed person who fits more into the black community.

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