Saturday, March 7, 2009


What am I? I'll admit, it's not a question I often ask myself. My last name and dark skin usually give me away as Hispanic, not that I'm trying to hide anything. But reading about the Census and how they determine the racial make-up of the country got me thinking, what race am I? Almost every time I see the word "Hispanic," there's usually the caveat that "Hispanics can be of any race." Which is true, but rather unhelpful to someone trying to figure out their origins. And figuring out my origins is important to me because I do subscribe to the belief that to know yourself, you must know where you come from. So where do I come from? New Mexico, and except for my paternal grandfather, who did immigrate from Mexico (Guadalajara, Jalisco, to be exact), the rest of my family has lived in New Mexico as long as they can remember, which I've estimated to be at least the late 1800s, if not earlier. Still, "New Mexican" only describes place, "Mexican" is a nationality, not a race (and I usually don't say I'm Mexican), and "Hispanic" is an ethnicity. And that I'm comfortable with.

But what race am I? Here, for me, for many Hispanics, and increasingly, for a lot of Americans, it gets tricky. Ours has never been a country that is fully informed or enlightened on matters of race, after all, even the tiniest drop of African blood classifies one as black, and often dooms him or her to a lifetime of discrimination. For me, living in a community that was predominantly Hispanic, I never worried too much about race and ethnicity, and the issues that arise from being from a minority. Still, it often intrigued me that "Hispanics" could be light-skinned with almost blond hair (termed "guero" in Spanish) to my olive tone, to even darker. Truly a product of intermarriage and racial mixing going back to the earliest waves of European colonization, this "mestizo" heritage defines me, my family, and the Hispanic community well. I look at my pale-skinned maternal grandmother and my dad's blue eyes and realize I am part Caucasian. I notice my own copper-toned skin and hear stories about an Apache great-great grandmother and know I am part Native American. But never have I classified myself as white or Native American on any of the many bubble sheets today's students are so used to filling out. But neither have I said I'm of "mixed" race, though undoubtedly I am. Instead, when forced, I list myself as "other."

But I'll stop before taking more of your time talking about my "otherness."

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