I have been noticing a surge in articles online about raising biracial or mixed race children. I’ve been reading a lot about the topic because it astounds me that it’s such a big deal — and it scares me a little. While I can (sort of) understand why this topic is important to some people, I wanted to share my perspective as a mixed race child — one who didn’t even realize she was different in the first place.
I was born to a very mixed family in the late 1980s. The truth is that I never saw this as anything weird or unusual at all — my family never mentioned our racial make-up and I never saw it. No one ever said anything to me or my family in school or at work, and when my African-American grandfather brought me to meet his co-workers, no one mentioned my skin color.
This might come as a shock because I am white — very white. My skin is as pale as pale can get, and yet my grandfather is African-American. My mother is half Italian, half African-American, and my father is the son of mixed (Spaniard and Native American) mother with a European father. From all this you would think there’d be something interesting to say about my siblings and me, but… there’s not.
It never occurred to me that I might be different until we moved to the United States when I was six. My exposure to race and ethnicity was helpful in that I already had an understanding of people and their differences. People would ask me how it felt to grow up in a mixed home, and I would promptly reply that I didn’t know.
I sometimes see kids struggle with their identity, and when I tell them that I’m also mixed race they either don’t believe me or ask me what I find to be a sad question: “How do you feel about it?” The truth is I don’t feel anything: I’m me. Unfortunately, this isn’t an answer people who are hell-bent on knowing your ethnicity are happy to hear.
I came home from school one day in tears, asking my mother what I was. My mother looked at me, completely confused, and said, “You’re a human, Moni.” I was upset and asked her what kind of human I was, and she said, “The cute kind.” It wasn’t until I explained that I didn’t look Hispanic that she said to me I could be whatever I felt like since I have “plenty to pick from” that I calmed down. She told me that whenever someone asked me my race I could simply answer “the human race” — which turned out to be the best advice my mother ever gave me.
I am not Hispanic or Caucasian or African-American — and I don’t have to be just one.
As an adult I find myself faced with the issue of race every day — I never know what to check when I’m filling out any kind of official form. I urge parents of mixed race children to not teach them they are a mixture of two cultures (or three, or four) but instead teach them that they are human beings. Skin color really is only skin deep, and it’s not truly an indicator of anything other than a gene lost in a million years — it often doesn’t even reflect what culture someone belongs to.
The truth is, if it were not for my mother’s words I’d be incredibly frustrated by the situation. Instead, the idea that I belong to the human race is the foundation of my upbringing, and I realize that I cannot be easily defined by what my skin looks like.