I used to call myself an “ethnic burrito” when I was a teenager. I’m a diverse mix. My mom is Mexican American. She was raised in a mostly white part of Orange County in Southern California and faced racist bullying.
In the early 1970s she converted to Hinduism. That led her to meet my father, a Louisiana-born Caucasian man, who had also converted. They had three daughters and raised us with strong Hindu influences.
My father’s family is French and for decades I thought I was half French. But then a genetics test revealed I am quite the global mutt: 20% Native American (indigenous Mexican from my mom’s side), 40% Spanish, a mix of Western and Eastern European and a tiny percentage of African.
Ever since I was a little girl, people of all colors would ask me, “What are you?” You see, I have a racially ambiguous look. People have guessed that I’m from pretty much everywhere.
This question often confused me as a kid. I never felt like answering to complete strangers. “I’m human.” I thought, I don’t need to explain anymore than that.
Being asked this for my entire life has deeply undermined my sense of belonging. I tend to identify as Latina but I have olive skin and don’t speak Spanish fluently. I don’t always feel like I blend in with a Latina crowd.
When I’m in an all white crowd, I definitely don’t feel like one of them. I had a daughter with a Caucasian man and she looks white. I’m a lot darker than her and don’t resemble her much (in some places people might assume I was her nanny).
After the terrorist attacks of 2001, many people assumed I was Arab. Professors made a point to ask me how I was doing.
In almost every airport I got delayed for searching. Once a customs officer held me back, staring at my US passport, and grilled me, “What’s your nationality?”
Well duh, I’m American. You’re looking at my passport, dude. He acted like he was entitled to more information, so I told him my racial mix. But it felt violating.
Like many mixed race people, I have felt uncomfortable with racial divisions. I make other people uncomfortable about racial divisions because I don’t fit into their categories.