English/Welsh | Mexican/Spanish

Photo credit: provided by Jennifer

Photo credit: provided by Jennifer

My Mom’s side of the family is English and Welsh and were a part of the early settlers in the United States. I do not know who my Father was, but per DNA his roots are native to Mexico and Spain. I am learning what it means to me to identify as mixed-race, as I recently just learned where the other half of me comes from. My mother’s husband was Italian/Sicilian and his family believed in Catholic School, which is where I was until about 12 years old. I do not identify with being Catholic and I really only connect with ways of living that are inclusive and expansive. I am heterosexual and am in a profoundly loving and supportive partnership.

My Mom’s people are mostly from England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe, and my biological Father’s roots are mostly native to Mexico and Spain. I was raised to believe I was half Italian/Sicilian and in turn spent much of my childhood culturally very attuned with that. However, this past fall I learned through two DNA sites that I am not Italian, and I do not know who my biological Father is. My Mother passed away a year ago and so I cannot ask her how they met. I grew up in the United States, in the working-class suburbs of Chicago.

Given I just learned I was mixed-race, I can say I’m really in the thick of sorting it out. On reflecting back, so many things come to mind. My maternal Step-Grandfather used to tell everyone, and it was a family story, how he said I looked like I was ‘a boat person’ when I was born. While I did not know what he meant at the time, I knew that it meant I was somehow different.

As far back as I can remember I was told I looked ‘different’, ‘ethnic’, ‘not just White’. People would inevitably ask where I was from and would repeatedly try to guess while I smiled politely and waited for it to pass. I tried so hard to give answers to help others in their attempt to have me fit somewhere, but the truth is I didn’t feel I fit either.

Given that I was raised and moved in White communities I noticed that while I passed as White, I often didn’t feel a part of and I had a strong aversion to girls with blue eyes and blond hair. I noticed the girls who were fairer skin with light eyes were often the ones with partners, I got made fun of for the size of my lips and how dark my skin turned in the sun. I think these things led me to cling to the Italian identity I had very closely because I had a reason for why I was a bit ‘other’.

There was no combining of cultures, as I am not sure how my Mom and biological Father even met. This is really challenging for me because I feel an intensely deep loss of a culture and homeland I have never actually had. Perhaps that’s why one of my favourite words has always been ‘hiraeth’.

My current challenge is that I feel at a complete loss on how to honor and embrace all of the parts of me, without claiming things I have no right to claim. I ask myself how I can claim my ‘Whiteness’, the privilege that comes with that, and continuing to do my work on challenging that as well as claiming my heritage that is native to Mexico with no guide or roadmap for doing so. How can I claim traditions without feeling that I am cherry picking and appropriating without the lived experience? I am not sure how to reconcile this.

The challenges I have faced in direct relation to my appearance being mixed-race has often been commingled with myself as a woman, being exoticized by men and being made to feel different due to an ambiguous ethnicity that people can’t pin down.

I used to live in a massive metropolis, a deeply divided and segregated one, but still one rich in a variety of diversity. I have always gravitated to more diverse people, places, and things as opposed to white mono cultures. Before learning I was mixed-race, I thought that my intentional choosing of diversity was some sort of manifestation of white guilt, but now I wonder if there was a deeper reason, I just felt more comfortable in spaces that were not all White.

A couple of years ago I moved to live near rivers, mountains, and the ocean to fill my spirit up, but one of the consequences of that choice is that I am in mostly all White communities. I would like to get involved in some specific groups that bring diversity to the outdoors, but I’m afraid I won’t be accepted due to being mixed and mixed with no culture or homeland at that.

I used to get the question ‘where are you from?’ constantly and answering it never really got me anywhere except spinning in circles because my answer didn’t satiate them. Now I kind of want to scream from the rooftops about where I am from because I finally have some idea, maybe I will scream it out at the next person who asks me.

As I live more into what it means for me to be mixed-race, then I think I may be able to articulate what it is like to be mixed-race in today’s society.

If I had the opportunity to be reborn I would want to return the exact same, but with more context of where I come from and to know who my ancestors were. Next time around, I would like to feel more of a sense of belonging