Most strangers who pass me on the street think I’m white. I don’t blame them for this, as I’m pale as hell. I got some sort of mid-point of my parents’ genes: my obviously brown father and my paper-white mom, his black hair and her light brown, her 5-foot-7-inches and his 6-foot-4-inches. Growing up, I got so tan in the summers, and I brought in Nana Griego’s homemade tortillas for show and tell. My friends joked about how I loved burritos and that I was like a maid. The confusion of childhood takes a lifetime to unpack, and I find myself looking back with terror on things that I couldn’t have understood at the time. Yet without fully knowing about their repercussions, these tiny moments come together to form a huge part of the way everyone sees the world.
As a child, I felt both that being Latinx was a vital part of myself and an invisible one. Most people of color could tell you this, as our cultures are flattened and warped until they are comfortable for white people to consume. But being mixed is a unique experience in itself, especially taking into account the different cultures parents can come from. In popular culture, ‘mixed’ is often taken by people to mean ‘mixed with white.’ Mixed people are fetishized if they appeal to white beauty standards, like if they have light brown skin with blue eyes. We are stuck being made into caricatures on TV under the guise of inclusivity, all the while reinforcing westernized beauty standards of pale skin, small noses and straight hair. Sometimes I feel like a weapon turned against myself.
Being mixed-race has made me feel like I am ‘both and neither’ white nor brown. I have always felt like I straddled the lines between categories. Every new context means different treatment and different visibility, and most contexts erase some part of my identity. Those who grow up this way see fluidity in things that others might see as fixed. Being mixed-race has pushed me to see the many layers of privilege and oppression people encounter each day. I have the privilege of ‘passing’ as white to most people. I have the privilege of being invisible in tandem with the presumption that I have two white parents.
In so many ways, white people see race as the absence of whiteness. Growing up in America, the infamous ‘melting pot’ is only melting in that it is falling apart. People of color in America are taught that we are are the other, the last priority. Being mixed feels like the pain and confusion of being American, when all that America has ever been made for is the exploitation of people of color. This is a country built on slavery, violent seizure of Indigenous lands and forced erasure of culture of both Indigenous and Black Americans (only to name a few groups). How am I supposed to feel good in a country that romanticizes this foundation to this day? Being mixed feels like confusion and anger and ‘we deserve better,’ and I think it always will.