“What Are You?”: Confessions From a Multiracial Latina
I can usually tell when it’s coming because the person squints with this perplexed look, shaking their head from side to side, and in slow motion the words roll off of their tongue…What are you?
I’ve gotten the question from colleagues, audience members, old ladies on the bus, coquettish men, the list continues. The conversation begins innocently…
“Soooo uhhh, where are you from?”
— New Jersey.
“Oh no I mean, where are you from from?”
— Umm, Williamstown, New Jersey?
“I guess what I meant to ask is ‘What ARE you?”
Then I say in a semi-robotic voice, I’m Puerto Rican, Hawaiian, and Filipina.
The more exhausting question is “Which side do you think you’re more of?” How is that even a fair question? I’m one of those people who has to check the OTHER box on applications because I can’t choose. Our household’s census last year looked like a disaster with all the checkmarks. There is never an easy way to explain what I am to others. And there has never been a way to blend in.
Blending in is a foreign idea. I’ve always stuck out like a sore thumb. As a child people gave me either the white dolls or the black dolls. Then again there weren’t any tan dolls with rice-cookers in their kitchens or better yet, a Puerto Rico shrine in their two-story dollhouse. I was raised in the suburbs and experienced racism throughout my adolesence because I was neither white nor black. It even boggled my Latino friends minds’ when they saw my father and tasted his fried rice. I could hear them thinking, So that’s why she has slanted eyes.
I have multiracial friends who have gone through similar experiences and situations. The challenge is facing racism, ignorance, and confusion from all sides. Being multiracial has its perks don’t get me wrong, but it’s a constant struggle. I have dealt with badgering from “friends” and even tried to laugh along when a racist comment about Puerto Ricans is made. People have commented on “Orientals” and made stereotypes in my presence forgetting I am part Asian/Pacific Islander. Being a minority within a minority is tough. I’m not Puerto Rican enough for the Latinas or Hawaiian/Filipina enough for the Asian/Pacific Islanders.
I loathe when people say, “You don’t look Puerto Rican.” Tell me this, how does a Puerto Rican look? Maybe she carries fruit on her head? Wait, maybe she has glamourous curves with a sexy accent? Am I missing something?? I look like me. Over the years I have heard Mexican – do you eat tacos?; Chinese girl – so you must be smart, no wait, are you black and white? Americans have asked me where Puerto Rico is. The comments are from all races. Ignorance has no color.
As a parent, I am doing my best in raising my son to be culturally aware. My son – the Puerto Rican/Hawaiian/Filipino/Irish/German/Native-American. Times are changing and the generations to come will be more accepting (I can only hope) as I believe my parents were ahead of their time. My mother has Goya crowding her kitchen cabinets and my father has the Hawaiian sun permanently on his face – but my birth certificate reads the United States.
Now when someone asks me the inevitable question I respond assertively, “I’m American, what are you?”