As someone who comes from a blend of different cultures, it can sometimes seem like there isn’t really anywhere I belong. There are no neat boxes that I fit into.
I love that I am able to have a unique perspective and have the opportunity to grow up knowing different cultures. I’m proud of who I am and where my family is from. I am Cuban, Mexican and white and I will always consider myself lucky that I am able to have the experiences I do.
But there is also a lot of frustration that comes along with being mixed race.
People have dismissed my Latina side completely (“Please, you’re just white.”) and people have called me racial slurs or have said racist jokes to me (“Want to mow my lawn?”).
I have sought out Latino friends only to be turned away because I’m “too white,” while my white friends will never really be able to understand my frustrations about race or be able to relate to cultural references.
When people tell me that I’m “only white,” it’s like an entire half of me–half of my life experiences, half of my upbringing and half of my family–is being ignored. These are the same people who will “joke” with me about landscaping and cleaning their houses.
Growing up Latina and white showed me that white privilege is a real issue. My mom, who is Latina, and my dad, who is white, have received different treatment even when being in the same place together. Neighbors have treated them differently, completely ignoring my mom while they have no problem speaking with my dad.
One experience with racism that sticks out the most in my mind was when my family moved when I was in middle school. My mom and I went out to ask the mailman what the neighborhood was like–keep in mind that it’s a pretty nice neighborhood, one that was (and still is) predominantly white.
The first thing out of the mailman’s mouth when he saw us: “Are you part of the cleaning crew for this house?”
I don’t think he meant to be racist. But he was, at that moment. He automatically assumed that my mother and me, both Latina females, were just there to clean the house. I don’t think it crossed his mind that we were living there until my mother corrected him.
If I were “just white,” then I wouldn’t be dealing with racist remarks like that.
Despite all of the frustrations and struggles that come with being of mixed races, I love telling people that I am. I love telling people about my grandparents and where they come from.
Speaking of, my grandmother and grandfather on my mom’s side came here, to the U.S. illegally. (They’re both U.S. citizens now.) My grandfather, who is from Cuba, escaped on a boat in the middle of the night. He left almost his whole entire family behind. My grandmother grew up in poverty in Mexico and left to find a better life, being a single mother at the time.
They still had struggles in the U.S. They worked in factories and didn’t make a lot of money, but they told me once that their life here was much better than it would have been if they stayed in the countries they were born in.
Whenever people insult immigrants, I think of them. Whenever it hits me just how lucky I am to be here, I think of my parents, who both worked hard to provide a better life for my sister and me.
And whenever I hear or see someone talk about Latinos being “lazy” or about immigrants being “ungrateful,” I think of my grandparents, my mom, my aunt, cousins and family friends, who are examples of the exact opposite.
As I grow older, I try to pay more attention to the food my grandparents make, trying to file away the recipes in my mind. When they speak Spanish, I try to swim through the two different accents and dialects and understand. I want to preserve the cultures I grew up with so that I can pass them on.
I don’t want to hear what you think I am, and I especially don’t want to hear that I am not enough of something. Do not tell me what you think I am because I will prove you wrong.