I am writing this piece from my heart. It’s been bubbling to the top for a while now. This is my experience.
From the time of my childhood, I have prided myself on being American. I still do. Being American was enough for any of us. Remember “The Great American Melting Pot?” School House Rock did a song about it.
One day, when I was a junior in high school, David Donate asked me “What are you, Edwina?” When I replied American, he said, “I know that. We’re all American. But what are you?” Until that moment, having lived in a wonderfully multi-cultural town, it had never been an issue. It never occurred to me to ask. It was that day a seed was planted. Thus, this blog site.
Three of my four grandparents were citizens. My paternal grandparents came from Mexico, but took the citizenship test; prideful of their new country. They birthed children all over the heartland of America: Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, California. My parents were born here. My dad is a Korean Conflict Veteran. He retired from that all-American company, Ford Motors. I have uncles on both sides that served this country, along with second cousins. Even some once or twice removed, proudly serving as I write. We love Elvis, baseball, and apple pie.
My American story is not enough for many though. Simply because I look different.
I have been recently calling myself an Ethnically Ambiguous Bird of Paradise. Ownership is a powerful coping mechanism. I look just different enough not to be Caucasian-American. But if you chatted with me, you would be very confused. Because I talk like one. [Note: the song “Valley Girl” was a part of my formative years and sorority girl talk is like soooo easy to imitate.]
English is my only language. Although my ancestors immigrated through Mexico, I cannot speak Spanish. Why should I? My family has been in the US for over 100 years now. This stereotype confounds everyone. Even those who have Spanish as their first language.
I am not visually American enough for some, and not Hispanic enough, in how I live, for others. This had been a sticking point regarding me for many years.My college roommates were sisters born in Mexico who came with their family in the 1980s. They called me White Washed. Nice.
Then I moved to Oklahoma with my husband. Now that my location had changed, so had the perceptions of those around me. As most Oklahomans weren’t very knowledgeable about Hispanics, I was either going to be classified as White or Native American. When I denied tribal affiliation, I was looked at with scorn. As if I was denying my roots. Yet another group I could not please. Aaarrrggggh!
Over the last twenty years, I have come to realize that human beings simply categorize those around them. They can’t help it. I no longer take it personally. Apparently, I was born to be that special person who throws everyone off by NOT filling the stereotype for which they are looking. I am a California girl, with a Master’s Degree, who has chosen to stay at home with her child, who married outside of her traditional faith and ethnically similar group. Boom!
I have made tamales only a few times – not 3 times a year since I was knee-high to a molcajete. And I learned how to make them by reading about it. Thank you, Rick Bayless. I am learning to read Spanish because I have to translate Spanish documents to find details in my family history. Any Spanish I can speak I learned from Dora and Diego. “Stars! Estrellas!” I took Latin in high school. Didn’t everyone?
My parents are having their DNA evaluated by Ancestry. One of my branches has a partial break down like this:
Europe: 45% (Iberian Peninsula/Italy and Greece); Native American: 18%; West Asia: 29% (Caucasus/Middle East) [with others in there as well].
So. I am Native! Just Native from Mexico; and so very far removed from tribal life that we have NO idea to what tribe we can connect. I have more Native in me than many of my card-carrying tribal friends here in OK. My great-grandfather emigrated from Turkey to Mexico in the last 1800s. This explains the West Asian facet of the breakdown. Bet none of you saw that coming. Hahahahaha!
I don’t get have the advantage to just consider myself a middle-class American SAHM who drives a super-dorky mini van, drinking coffee from Starbuck’s. Noooooo. (Read with inflection)
Being caught in this vague ethnic limbo forces me to look more deeply at groups outside of my own. From their perspective. I recognize the immigrant who works in the restaurant cleaning the tables. She may not be able to chat with me, but she looks like me. I see men on Facebook being shot in their cars without trial, much less Miranda Rights, differently because I am a visual minority; because others see ME that way. I am looked at by those I attend church with as the person who can easily provide tacos for the college student finals feed. Unbeknownst to them, I would get the recipe from Pinterest, just as they would. Thank you, Rick Bayless pins. I am talked to in Spanish by a non-English speaker who then looks me up and down as if I am broken when I cannot answer.
My new concern. I worry that my having Middle Eastern ancestry could be detrimental to my safety as a third-generation American citizen. And now that Ancestry has my official DNA results, will it ever be used against me? The many DNA evaluation companies are privately owned. Until a court order asks for their lists. Let’s not pretend it isn’t possible. Let’s not pretend that our country hasn’t put racial groups in camps before. For the safety of our country.
This is the crap I get to dwell on occasionally. Ethnically ambiguous birds of paradise have that burden, you know.
I am so made up of various groups that I can’t even get mad at history. I wouldn’t be here if all these people didn’t do their migration, their exploring, their conquering, their loving and inter-racial marriages thing.
This post isn’t to wear everyone down. It’s to ask for one thing. I want you to practice looking at each other differently. Practice looking at a stranger outside of the “race” category. Look at what we all have in common. I’ve seen Muslim women in mini-vans in the Drive-Thru line at Panera on that first day of school. Just like the rest of the other moms. Super glad that summer is over. More than likely, as I happen to know, you will have their story wrong any way. Trust me on this. Like those two Indian men in Olathe, Kansas. You know. The one the shooter thought were from the Middle East. Sigh……