“That’s racist” we would say. My friends would jokingly call each other out. But that’s what racism was to us. A joke. Because when you go to a school where more than ninety percent of the people there share the same cultural background, you live in a safe bubble, and generally assume that people don’t think less of you for how much melanin is in your skin or what story your DNA tells. I really thought, it can’t be real. Maybe in some backwoods place people still hate, but not in the places I live.
Almost four years ago I met my son, whose skin is the color of cafe con leche, but a little more cafe than leche. He has my father’s green eyes, a gift from his father before him. Unlike his brother, when I was out and about with him, no one asked me if I was his nanny. And when I took my two boys out, I was frequently asked if they were brothers, and when I said yes, I know tongues were held. I knew what the next question was, but I let it sit with people, allowing some shame to seep in. It’s not your business if they both come from the same paternal line. But yes, we did have two children with different skin tones. If you’ve ever met a Mexican family, you wouldn’t be surprised. Our nicknames acknowledge our awareness. We call her morena or preita, and we call him güero. Terms of endearment. You can do a google search.
I used to find it funny that when I took my blond, blue eyed doll of a baby out people assumed I was his nanny. I mean, I’m not very dark, but I do get asked “so… what are you.” But when my second son was born, and since then, I have had numerous encounters that I chalked up to “old people can be crazy” but then I started to wonder if that was really all that there was to it. Sure my boys are loud, but so are my friend’s kids. I’m a little louder, but I know plenty of white women who make me feel like a whispering mouse. When I really started to take a closer look at all these encounters I saw two common threads running through… they were white, and I am not.
I really, really, really don’t like to cry racism. I really don’t. Because I still can’t wrap my head around the idea of someone not respecting me (or my son, or anyone) simply because of some preconceived notion about people who share my genetic background. And yet I do wonder if there’s something there that I’ve chosen to ignore. I wonder why it is so easy for some people to give me a dirty look, or let me know how they think I should control my kid, or why they think they have the right to wag their finger and insult me. Don’t we bleed the same red?
I have lived in dual worlds from the beginning. Born American with Mexican heritage. Not brown enough for some, or pale enough for others. Too much of a gringa for those in the home country, and yet not quite fully immersed in American culture. I know that this is the reality that will be passed down to my children, though I suspect the inner tug of war might not be as present in their lives.
Maybe my encounters have zero racism, and people are just… awful sometimes. But maybe my suspicions carry some validity. I am not looking for sympathy. I suppose I just want to add to the conversation that racism doesn’t always look the way we expect it to. But damn it, it hurts anyway.