Growing up, I did not look like my family: my dad is Black and has kinky curls (although you would never guess that since he shaves his head) while my mom is very light skinned, has green eyes, and slightly wavy hair. My siblings and I took after my parents’ traits in different ways.
For example, I inherited soft curls from my mom but a darker skin tone from my dad; my brothers both inherited my dad’s tight curls and lighter skin, but one is a bit darker in complexion than the other. This lack of sameness was more apparent outside our immediate family — cousins and grandparents possessed varying levels of Mexican, white, Black or Asian traits — and continues to affect my sense of self.
But up until 1967 laws in much of the United States prohibited these interracial relationships and marriages. Multiracial families — mine included — hid their racial identities to maintain job opportunities and ensure better treatment in society as well as to avoid their loved ones’ arrest.
Multiracial families — mine included — hid their racial identities to maintain job opportunities and ensure better treatment in society as well as to avoid their loved ones’ arrest.
That changed on June 12, 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on interracial marriages violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Though not a nationally recognized holiday, this day, now recognized as Loving Day, is the largest multiracial celebration in American history.
Thanks to this monumental Supreme Court case and the U.S. Census allowing residents to select more than one ethno-racial identity beginning in the year 2000, I always saw representation of myself on forms and government documents. My personal experiences, however, indicate that society is still learning to understand and accept multiracial identities. Despite the government seeming to acknowledge me, all my life, I have needed to explain my ethnic and cultural identity to nearly everyone that I meet.
Despite the government seeming to acknowledge me, all my life, I have needed to explain my ethnic and cultural identity to nearly everyone that I meet.
“Is that really your mom?” peers asked when my mom visited my school.
“That’s your dad? I didn’t know you were Black!” acquaintances commented under Instagram posts featuring my parents.
To this day, the first questions I am asked — whether from customers at work or job interviewers, include “Where are you from?” or, more commonly, “What are you?”
As a child I would always respond by listing everything that my parents told me:
“I’m Jamaican, Mexican, Italian, Swedish, English, and Native American,” I would say. My brown skin and textured hair prevented me from passing as white, but more importantly, I never wanted to forget any part of myself or my family.
But in my teen years people began to question my response, asking “Okay but what are you mostly — if you had to pick one thing?”
“You’re not a real Mexican though,” people would say.
Or I would hear, “You’re not Black enough.”
How could I pick one identity when I’m made up of a series of fractions? Why did some people think they had the authority to invalidate my heritage, claiming it offended them or didn’t count?
I have yet to find answers, but by centering stories from and engaging in conversations with those who also identify as multiracial, I hope to get a little closer. I will spotlight the stories of others who have felt invalidated or misunderstood and share how people cope with feelings of isolation, amplifying people’s frustrations and joys. After all, my experience of being questioned for identifying with multiple races and simplifying myself for the benefit of others is probably not unique.
Thus, if you identify as someone from a mix of cultural backgrounds or ethnic makeup, I want to hear your story.
How have you maintained connection with any or all of these cultures? Do you identify with all of the places that make up your heritage? Or like myself, have you chosen, as a result of society or familial knowledge, to focus on only a few identities to maintain connections to?
Few belong to this ethnically and culturally diverse community, but let’s start this conversation so that our children do not need to grow up feeling the same alienation that many of us have experienced.
Last updated 10/3/20
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