Growing up light- being a pale minority.

When I was 12 years old I was going through my school papers and found my birth certificate. My last name was foreign instead of the German  last name I had known my entire life. I felt sick and confused on how no one had told me my entire life that I was Hispanic. This ethnicity that my mother’s family commonly made jokes about, and I heard many of their friends “playfully” discuss in inappropriate ways. I felt so lost and betrayed, because I was not even given the choice on if my name was to be changed or not. It was done for me, because my biological father had chosen to give me away before he went to prison. His family wanted nothing to do with me, or so I was told, because I was light. Why had no one told me about what I was?

When you look at pictures of my biological parents my mother is actually darker complected than my father. She was ” white”, but a high percentage of Native American. Her eyes were a beautiful green color, and that she blessed me with. My father had ” Hispanic” features; dark hair, brown eyes, olive skin, stereotypical dress, and unfortunately poor stereotypical actions that taint the Hispanic community’s image. He grew up very poor, and in a home with a lot of domestic violence. It played out like that cycle normally does, and he continued it with my mother and other women he saw romantically. He made a lot of bad choices, and one of them ended up costing my mother her life; She was only seventeen years old, and I was left an orphan a week after my second birthday.

My mother’s family loved and raised me like their own daughter, and I really didn’t ask questions until I was a preteen. They were trying to shield me from a lot of hard pills to swallow, but in doing so; They robbed me of a culture they had to deny to keep me safe, but then again I didn’t get the opportunity to be immersed in a culture that didn’t even want me.

Being multiracial is interesting, to say the least. You always feel out of place. For me I went through so many stages of trying to belong, and yet nothing I did was ever good enough for either side. In elementary school I lived in a 95% Hispanic district, and I was tortured. Kids threw rocks at me, hateful notes,  teasing, bullying to the farthest degree, and it wasn’t because I  was fat or smart. It was because I looked different. I didn’t speak Spanish, and I was the lightest girl in school. My eyes betrayed me with their green hues, while everyone else had golden brown. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my school, because I didn’t share their culture. They didn’t care that I was half Hispanic, they cared that I looked and acted differently. The self loathing set in, and my parents eventually moved school districts to a ” better school district”. I was then faced with the opposite problems.

The new school district was wealthy, and my family was not. I still stuck out like a sore thumb. I felt alone in a sea of light skinned people who had no idea what it was like to live on peanut butter and crackers for a week. I felt alone listening to Selena and trying to catch on to trendy clothes I could not afford. I was still different, and it grew worse the more I learned about my cultures.

In my teens I really threw myself into studying Latin culture, learning about all of my family, and trying to learn Spanish. It was incredibly important to me to feel that I understood myself completely. I wanted to give myself the cultural diversity that I was entitled to. I eventually met my father’s family, and it was difficult at times. He will be in jail until I’m  in my 30’s and although at one point we tried to write each other; He is emotionally unstable.

I learned some important things on my quest however. I learned that although my family is Mexican, most of them are easily traceable to Spain. Hints, why I Am very olive skinned but light. My paternal grandmother and I were actually the same color, we look very similar. I spent time with some of my family and they taught me how to make traditional foods like Migas, Tamales, flautas, and most importantly to me Tortillas. For a while I felt complete, but then I felt inferior again as they too began to joke. My ” white” was coming out, or that I couldn’t understand because I was so light. I began to feel a cultural difference in myself when problems arose, and I didn’t want to get into fights. Eventually the self loathing came back, and I spent a few more years trying to come to terms with myself.

The problem I encounter at least once a week is with my name. “Teresa” in the south is usually assumed to be with a Spanish Inflection. I do not say my name that way however, and I’ve actually had people CORRECT me and tell me I say my name incorrectly. It astonishes me that people have the audacity to tell you that you pronounce your own name wrong, and then they continue to insult me by saying. ” Why do you have a Hispanic name if you are white?” This is where my temper comes out. I have to explain that I’m half Hispanic, and that Hispanic people aren’t just Mexican nor do they only come in one shade. We are a broad and proud culture filled with diversity ; all of which is beautiful. Usually they ignore me and go on to say I’m so “light”. I get to “have white privilege”, and they walk off. I loath it with every fiber of my being.

The other common question I receive is “What is your ethnicity?” And men commonly ask me if I am Italian. Both of those open up a bunch of other stereotypical generalizations that sort of disgust me. ” I love Hispanic women because they make great mother’s and are great cooks” or ” You don’t even look Hispanic; I’m glad” or my personal favorite ” You’re perfect, is there a white version of you?”  Yes, men actually say these things to me.

There are moments I even catch myself making fun of my cultures, and I regret it immediately. It’s not that I can’t take a joke, it’s that I don’t want to promote stereotypical ideas that weigh down either of my ethnicities. There are days I feel like I’m choosing one side over the other when I choose my hair color or use self tanner. I tend to think of myself as a person made from love. Despite the situation, two people from two cultures overcame their different upbringings and made me. I’m thankful for that everyday. It may not always be easy, because some people don’t understand what it’s like to feel like two people in a single body, but I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.

I still go into the local Mercado smiling with my blonde- blue eyed child, and I always see the surprise on people’s faces when I start speaking Spanish. Yet, more and more they start smiling back, and I feel joy when the Elotes vendor remembers my name and that I like extra chile in my cup. They are starting to see I’m not just the” white girl “, but I’m just a lighter lady.

 

 

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