As race bubbles to the top and we get to see some of the tensions that exist and have existed, I think it is of utmost importance that we strive to understand others, but also try to better understand ourselves and articulate our experiences in thoughtful ways. Race has always been part of my life. Like many Americans I come from a mixed heritage, but what is closest and most relevant to my lived experience is that my mom was hispanic and my dad was white. They had four kids, two daughters and two sons. My sister and one of my brothers look like my father, and me and my other brother take after my mom. I say this, because this was very present to me when growing up.
My mother ~ born in New Mexico in 1947, was the oldest of fifteen children and her first language was Spanish. The majority of her siblings who are still alive live in NM or close by. She was the first in her family to go to college, but she did not graduate.
My father ~ born in Kentucky in 1920, the youngest of seven children (only one who had the same mother), served in WWII and then entered the monastery and lived as Fr. Justin until he was in his 40s, getting 3 Master degrees in the meantime.
They met in Tucumcari NM, where most of my mother’s family lived. My dad had left the monastery and had become a high school choir teacher. I know that my dad wasn’t quickly accepted as part of my mom’s family. Not only was he white, but he was also 27 years older than her. However, by the time I was in the picture, he was well loved by almost all my aunts and uncles.
We moved to southern NM when I was three and we lived apart, although close, to my NM relatives. We knew them and were closer to them than my dad’s family. My dad’s brother lived in Kentucky and he had extended family there, in the NJ area, and in California.
I noticed (or interpreted) at a young age that it was “better” to be white. I saw it at school, and in the community I lived in. I see and saw so much of my mother’s side of the family struggle economically and I saw my dad’s side of the family living a very different life, so much of this connected to education and expectations of what life could offer.
– Other than a brief period when I was 9 and embarrassed about how old my dad was, I was glad my last name was Richard. It would make people think twice before deciding that my brownish face was other.
– I purposefully tried to look more white through most of high school, not getting a tan and wearing lighter makeup. This was intensified after visiting more with my dad’s side of the family, and having them voice that I looked different, I was not like them, even though my sister was. I must point out that they were not treating me badly or differently than my sister, but only voicing that I looked different. And so I felt different and I wanted to be like them.
My mother did not teach us to speak Spanish as she had been punished in school when she had spoken it. This did not mean she was not proud of her heritage, but multiculturalism/multilingualism was not seen positively at that time. She still spoke to her family in Spanish and a large part of her social justice work was with immigrants. Everything that I know about her points to a very strong sense of identity that influenced everything that she did, and being hispanic was a large part of who she was.
My mother was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis when I was eight. This was the start of an illness that she struggled with for many years. We had the quintessential mother daughter explosive relationship. This was intensified with both her browness that I was fighting against and her sickness. And then she died when I was 18, and I never got to grow and process all my feelings wrapped up with her or ask her any questions about her lived experience.
Going to college was never even a question. My parents didn’t really talk about it, but my sister had gone before me, and I did well in school. I was skilled at meritocracy. I could study for a test, play the game, and hit all the right marks. I am still unlearning a lot of this.
I got into an elite college, far away from my hometown. College was the first time I started to see diversity celebrated. I was also exposed to so many more cultures, not just white and hispanic. Unlike high school, where most of my friends were white, I hardly had any close friends who were not part of a minority group. I started to take pride in my background as I realized how much my identity was tied up in where and who I was from.
All this to share who I am in the midst of my privilege – and yes I have a lot of privilege. After graduating from college, I’ve gotten job after job because of my degree. I was able to travel and live in different countries because my native language is English. I was also able to get my Master’s degree (although still paying it off) and along with it, even better jobs. Currently, I have a job where I can express my opinions and I am listened to and treated respectfully. For me, this puts me in a position where I must act. My everyday life is no longer just my own. I am made up of how I intersect with those around me, within this large diverse country where I was born. I hear so many people saying that politics is far removed from their lives. If that is true, how can we make it closer to our lives? I share some of my story because I want others to know that I stand in support with them and in opposition to any acts of hate, racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia or anything that would continue to make these acts seem normal. This is NOT okay. I also attempt to approach this work with open ears, especially for those who are different from me, which isn’t easy, but is needed. I also share my story here because I want to start conversations with others whom I may not otherwise meet. How can we care together?