This summer I was doing a security job at a rock show and a group of people came up to me and asked me what I am. I was like, “What do you mean? I’m security,” pointing to my shirt, which had big black letters spelling out “security.” They said, “No, what are you mixed with?” Oh my god, are you serious? My only response was “I don’t know yet” to mess with them. They laughed and said “OK,” then walked away. I wanted to scream, “I’m human.”
What are you? It’s a question I get asked all the time. Everywhere I go people seem so anxious to figure out the answer. I get everything in the book from:
and many others.
I respond depending on my mood. I’ll say “Why does it matter?” or “It’s none of your business.” Most of the time I say I’m Mexican since my mom and dad both have Mexican in them. Or I tell them I’m white so they’ll leave me alone. But usually it doesn’t work. They’ll say “Just white?” or “Just Mexican?”
I don’t like to say because it’s a long list. The answer is I am mixed with multiple ethnicities. My dad was Mexican and Native American. My mom’s mother was Chinese and French Polynesian and her father was Mexican. My cousin also told me that my dad is part Puerto Rican. Either that or being Polynesian gave me thick, curly, coarse hair.
As a kid, my race wasn’t important
Growing up, I didn’t know what ethnicity was. My family never talked about it. I figured I was Mexican because my mom’s and father’s sides of the family speak Spanish. In fifth grade I hung out with two other girls who looked like me—light skin and curly hair. My teacher asked us what we were. I didn’t answer her because I didn’t think it was a big deal.
I didn’t start wondering what I was until I was asked a bunch of times in middle school. I went to a middle school in Carson where there were a lot of Pacific Islanders. People would ask me, “Are you Samoan or Tongan?” I’d say, “I’m Mexican.” Being in their crowd, I wanted to be like them. Their culture was a big part of them. They always wear lava lavas (sarongs) and Hawaiian print shirts. They were so nice and stuck together. I was always so fascinated. After so many people asked me, I wanted to know for sure. At the beginning of ninth grade I found out that my grandmother (my mom’s mom) is Asian and Polynesian. I thought that was cool because people always thought I was an islander.
The question started to bother me in high school when I noticed people would argue with me about what my ethnicity is. They’d say I’m black. I moved into a group home when I was 15 and lived there for two years because my mom and I weren’t getting along. A staff member asked me, “Are you black?”
“Ya, you’re black.”
“No I’m not. Why do you think I’m black?”
“Because you have black nappy hair.”
I had to school them. I told them blacks aren’t the only ones with coarse hair. Islanders like Samoans have it, some Cubans have coarse hair. It’s not just African-Americans. There’s nothing wrong with being black. If I were black I’d say I was black. She and the other staff members kept nodding their heads and making comments under their breath. I was irritated. I called my mom to have her tell them out loud that her daughter is not African-American. They kept on with their head nods. I walked away and went in my room irritated because that wasn’t the first time someone had tried to argue with me.
It’s OK when someone I’m close to asks me
I don’t mind telling a good friend or somebody I’ve known for a while if they don’t ask right off the bat what my ethnicity is. My biology teacher, Ms. Reynaga, was wearing bracelets from Hawaii. I said to her, “You went to Hawaii? I have family out there.” She asked if I was Hawaiian. I explained to her that I’m Pacific Islander. “My mom’s mom was Polynesian and went to go look for her family in Hawaii.” I wasn’t annoyed because I’ve known Ms. Reynaga and she’s one of my favorite teachers. And we were talking about other things before we got on the subject of ethnicity. It was a normal conversation.
I’m proud of what I am. I think it’s cool that I have all these ethnicities in my background because I can learn so much and experience different things. I’ve been learning Spanish. My Spanish teacher said I can roll my r’s really good. It made me happy. My grandma (my father’s mother) makes Indian flat bread. She cuts it open and puts meat and sauce inside. Ooh it’s so good, especially the sauce. That’s the one thing I come to her house and expect all the time.
I don’t tell people what I am because I feel like they judge me. At school people say negative stuff about all kinds of races. They called me a “border hopper.” I was mad because I told one person I was Mexican and I don’t know how all these people found out. Of course I didn’t like being labeled. It’s irritating that people describe you by your ethnicity or view you by what you are. I kind of do it too. My friend who has Cherokee Indian in her has long pretty hair and high cheekbones. When people don’t know her name, I tell them “my Indian friend” when I want to describe her. I don’t want to but they always get it when I say that.
I don’t think people should be labeled. I think you should get to know them. When I people-watch I don’t try to figure out what people are, I try to figure out what name goes best with them. Names are more important than your race. You write your name and not your ethnicity on a paper. Your name is you. The first thing I ask when I meet people is “What’s your name?” I wish people would ask my name before they ask me a question like “What are you?”