Mezcla by Gabrielle Krystal Greiner

Growing up biracial in upstate NY was like living in two different worlds that ignored each other: a white world and an “other” world. The white world consisted of the Italians, Germans, Jews, Irish, and other European descendants. The “other” world housed…everyone else: Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, East Asians, African-Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, etc. We were all lumped into that suffocating group called “other.” That word always baffled me and it still ticks me off when I see it listed on governmental forms that ask me to tick off my “race.” What is other? What’s “other” to me may not be “other” to you, and vice versa. It just seems like it’s a word with no weight: it’s empty.
In my household, my brother and I had parents from two different worlds that loved each other: “German white man” and “Puerto Rican other woman.” My last name is very German and since my first name isn’t Maria or Carmen, most people assume I am completely white before they meet me. I imagine prospective employers glance at my name on my resume and think, “Oh she’s white. Let’s call her.” Maybe that’s my own insecurity, but maybe not. I wonder if the interviewer is disappointed to see that I’m not fully white. Or maybe they’re excited to see that I am a person of color, so I can help them appear to be “diverse.” It’s something to ponder.
Since I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, this means that I grew up with white kids. Most of my friends from my childhood were white and I saw nothing wrong with that. The concept of ethnicity, I hate the word “race”, never really impacted me. Yes, my parents are of two different skin colors, but what does that signify?
Unfortunately, when I was around fourteen, my notions of ethnicity shifted and I felt pressured to give in to cultural stereotypes. The other Latinas at my school, none of them my friends, silently pressured and persuaded me to drop my “white girl act”, and start speaking in Ebonics. If I were to wear earrings, they must be massive hoops. My jeans must be so tight that my stomach bulges over top and my t-shirts must be equally tight so my body looks like it’s in sausage casing. My preferred music choices, namely the Beatles and Edith Piaf, had to change. Now I was to listen to Daddy Yankee and Marc Anthony. Oh, and the fact that I’m not fluent in Spanish? Huge problem. I should learn Spanish because I’m not Puerto Rican enough without the language constantly flowing off my tongue.
All of these things I could pretend to enjoy for a short while, but one thing made me realize that I was indeed “other” and no amount of reggaeton or Apple Bottom jeans would change that: I had light skin. You see, prior to this point, I always assumed that my skin was a caramel shade of brown. It was compared to my white friends, but the other Latinas were darker than I. In my mind, to be a Latina, you had to be dark. One winter day, meaning one day when I was especially pale and yellow, my father drove me to school and I asked him to buy me a self-tanner.

“Why do you want a self-tanner? You’re already tan.”

“I know, Dad, but I’m not dark enough. I want to be darker because I feel like I look weird. My skin is so light but my other features are very Puerto Rican. I just want to look…normal.”

My dad was quiet for a long time but his silence said everything that he could not say to his vulnerable mixed child.

Finally, he said, “I’ll buy you that if you want it.”

What I realize now is that my hatred of my skin was actually a form of hatred of him. If not hatred, then rejection. By rejecting my light skin, I was rejecting my father and his German blood that rushes through my veins. I was telling him, “I’m ashamed to be related to you. My conception was a mistake. Now I’ve got to fix that mistake you’ve created.” Perhaps I’m being a bit melodramatic, but you get the gist. After much prayer and careful consideration, I changed my mind. I didn’t buy the self-tanner and I thank God that I didn’t. I still struggle with accepting my skin color. Some days, I wish I were darker. Others, I wish I were lighter. I know that it will take my entire life to understand who I am as a woman, a Puerto Rican, a German, and a Christian.

But, it’s a process that I aim to enjoy as best I can. Everyone has an opinion on my ethnic identity but mine is the only one that matters. As a person who is Ricandeutsch, yes I coined my own ethnic term, I have allowed myself to enjoy eating rice and beans while I watch Jane Austen films. I can sip on the sweet coconut syrup from a piragua, a Puerto Rican snowcone, while vehemently arguing why When Harry Met Sally is the greatest film ever made. I don’t adhere to anyone’s definition of Latina or “white.” I create my own definition and dance through my own world, knowing that I’m breaking the borders society built around me. I pray that while I walk in freedom, I can bring this liberation to so many other young girls and boys who are told they are not enough, simply because they were born in between.

I Am Biracial (¡Guau! ¡No Me Digas!)

I am biracial.
Two races.
Two groups of people claim me as their own, or maybe they actually reject me.
I try to squeeze into the boxes you’ve placed in front of me, but somehow I can’t fit in.

Maybe it’s my hair that coils and springs freely.
My hair that moves wildly like an ocean wave crashing upon a Puerto Rican beach.
“Oh, girl you’re such a fiery Latina!”

Or perhaps it’s my skin color,
That mezcla of brown, yellow, and white.
“Your skin is so light, if you straighten your hair, you could pass.”
For white.
So you’re a Nazi.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t know this was a test. And what’s a passing score? White?

If so, I guess I’ve failed, because I got 50%.

And if this is a test, I was doomed to fail from the start.

Starting to think about my ethnicity the more you play games with it.

“What are you?”

What am I? A beloved daughter of the King.

You toy with my identity like we’re on the playground but half of me is on the wall waiting to be picked.

Which half? Depends on who YOU are.

People of color love to reaffirm my Puerto Rican “sassy” flavor.

And Caucasians are thrilled when they hear me speak. You see, I’ve been told I “speak well.” Speak well for what?

What do you think this is? Is my identity something malleable that you can stretch and stretch to fit your preconceived notions of what you think I should be?

Because I want to know when my ethnic identity became in any way related to our dependent upon you.

You need to know that I decide how I express my cultures. I choose which to identify with.

But you know, maybe I identify with both! That’s something we both know is unsettling to the idea of me in your head.

But, thankfully, even if I claim both cultures equally, shocking I know, you can still choose how you see me.

Because I am biracial.
Two races.
Two groups of people claim me as their own, or maybe they actually reject me.
I try to squeeze into the boxes you’ve placed in front of me
But somehow I can’t fit in.

And I don’t want to anymore.

Dear America: My Father is White (And That’s Okay)

This weekend has been jam packed with hospital visits and emergency surgeries, but I finally have a few moments to sit and breathe.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m “biracial.” My mother is Afro-Puerto Rican and my father is German-American. In other words, my mother is brown and my dad is white. Their union created me, ethnically ambiguous me, and I enjoy looking so distinct. Although my mixed heritage has been difficult to embrace at times, mostly because of others’ reactions to me, I love who God made me to be. I’m blessed to not be stuck in one culture and one mindset. Because I’m mixed, I can easily move between many cultures and believe that this will help me win souls for Christ. 

While being different is fabulous, there are aspects of the mixed life that are annoying and, at times, disturbing: some people think I’m my father’s wife. Yes, some people see me, a brown-skinned, curly-haired 23-year old woman out with a white 57-year old man and assume that any relationship between us must be of a sexual and romantic nature. Are you vomiting yet?

Growing up, I instinctually knew that society would perceive us in this way and when I became a teenager, I would make it a point to call my father “dad” or refer to “mom” whenever we were out in public. My fear of being mislabeled was profound. As a little girl, no one thought that anything inappropriate was happening between my father and I; we were just father and daughter. But, as I grew older, I knew that doubts would arise.

I could see it in people’s eyes when my dad and I shopped for groceries. I could feel their judgement on my back when I would hug my dad in public.

“Who is this little brown girl?”

“Is she some mail order bride?”

“That’s disgusting.” 

This fear subsided for some time because I lived in New York, and people were liberal. It was not inconceivable for a white man to have a brown child in New York. However, moving to Georgia has shown me a different side of America. Here, I go out with my father with the constant fear that someone will assume that our relationship is not familial. The other day, we went to Walmart (I hate them, but my dad’s a sucker for a bargain), and at the checkout line, we engaged in our typical witty banter, much to the amusement of the beautiful and sweet African-American cashier. When my dad left the checkout line to wash his hands (he got chicken blood on them -__-), the cashier asked me my age.

“I’m 23.”

“Oh, wow! I was going to say 17!” she laughed.

“Yeah, that’s just because I have my glasses on.” I replied, smiling.

. . .

“Are y’all close?”, she asked.

I was taken aback. In what way was she asking this question? I hope she knows he’s my dad.

“Yeah, we are…he’s a good dad.” I answered. Good job, Gabby. Clarify the relationship.

“Really? Aw, thats great. It’s hard to find good dads these days.” she said, with a little sadness in her tone.

Amen, sister.

When my dad came back, the cashier remarked to him that I said he was a good father and he in turn commended me as a daughter.

We left the store and I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman who saw my father and I together and immediately knew what our relationship was. That is rare.

 

This feeling didn’t last long. The next day, my father was rushed to the ER with what he thought were heart attack symptoms (turns out it was a panic attack), and the EMT who arrived at our house referred to me as my father’s wife. My dad immediately corrected him and he apologized.

Blunders like that happen often, but I asked myself why does this happen so often to us? It’s clear that my dad is almost 60 and I’ve been mistaken for a teenager countless times. Does anyone seriously think we’re married? If so, why?

I believe there’s only one reason that some people don’t understand our relationship: my skin color. If I were completely white, no one would doubt that this almost 60-year old white man and white 23-year old girl were father and daughter. In fact, if the genders were switched, I highly doubt that anyone would assume an older white woman would be in a relationship with a young brown man. They would see him as her son, wouldn’t they? No one would question it. But, because I have brown skin and I’m a woman, suddenly the relationship is not clear. This should not be so.

We live in an era where people freely marry people of other cultures and have babies with them. These babies grow into young adults and then adults who must deal with society’s perception of them and their parents for their entire lives. It is so damaging to a mixed person to be perceived as so incredibly “other” that we must not be related. We must be some young bride. Some sugar baby. Isn’t that the picture they have in their heads?

I wish this would stop. A girl shouldn’t fear going in public with her father simply because she’s of a certain age and different skin tone than he is. So, yes my dad is white. He’s my dad and will always be my papa bear. I’ll hug him in public and let them think what they will. He’s my dad and that’s all that matters.