Monday, January 5, 2009

Misspent Pride?

I wrote this a few weeks ago and never posted it...don't remember why?
Here it is:

I grew up in a biracial house. Two of my grandparents were born in Hermosillo, Sonora and two were born in the US. I think that's neat. Always have.

You should be proud of accomplishments, not what you were given at birth. This is a logical idea. But, here's the problem with that logic. I DO feel proud. Both of my accomplishments AND of my ancestors, their accomplishments, and what obstacles they overcame. I don't think that I'm better than anyone else because of it. I just think that knowing how to make tamales, the ability to get darker than anyone I've ever met when I spend too much time in Greece, and the way my brilliant elders freely interchange "ch" and "sh" makes my life better...somehow. Much better. Maybe just because ALL of those things, plus a billion more, make me. It's part of my story. It's part of who I am. Through a combination of nurture or nature, these people, these places, helped me to define my life, helped me to understand my world.
So, my question is the same that's been asked a billion times. How do we teach our children WHO they are? Their complete story. It seems too simple just to tell them their story. Often. With pride.
My dad is Hispanic. But, I credit my white mother for instilling much of my Mexican pride*. Why? Because she had the conversations with me. SHE told me that my skin color was beautiful and that I was lucky to have it. I believed her and as a child I secretly felt bad for the poor white people who might burn if they spend time in the sun. Who am I kidding? I still feel badly for them. Can you imagine a worse lot? Not being able to freely go outside. Having to cover your body, even your toes, with a lotion before you play? Such a sad story**. And then, of course, there was the food. SHE taught me how to make Mexican food. Mmmm...Enchiladas, Menudo, Tamales, Caldo de queso, etc. Which was obviously the best food. To me.
I have also been told, more often than I would like, that I'm not Mexican enough. That I'm white. People have questioned my Latina for years. I would be lying if I said it never bothered me. But, I knew the truth. Because I was told.

I had a moment today when I thought that I was perhaps an inadequate mom. When someone said a racial slur in front of me (not about Judah's race, about mine) I didn't say anything. I couldn't. It's happened before. I've frozen. It becomes like an out of body experience. I just freeze. Today I gathered all my strength (I don't like non-family confrontations) and even went to find her after work (unfortunately she's a teacher) to tell her how I felt. I even got so far as to tell her that her conversational tone made me feel uncomfortable. When she started apologizing profusely, I couldn't go further. I just nodded and left. I didn't bring "race" into it. It's just too personal. I might tear (and obviously I couldn't do THAT in front of that much ignorance). Instead of feeling like I was going to cry for ME or any pain I felt, I felt like I was going to cry for Jude. How can I be even close to an adequate mom and be UNABLE to respond appropriately to racial slurs? But, protecting your children is fiercely different than sticking up for yourself. I would mama-bear-style stick up for his toe nails if I felt it was needed. Behind his back of course- to his face, anyone with those ideas is plain CRAZY and we treat them the same as our wonderful friend who sits on the corner every day, with all of her fancy makeup and fur, yelling obscenities at the clouds.
In the area of race, my plan is to remind Jude how beautiful his skin is, how lucky he is to have it (it helps that I truly covet his tone and it makes me grind my teeth because I can't physically take the power of his cute overabundance if I think about it too much), cook up some tibs and wat, and take him to Ethiopia often. On trips to help out where we can, but mostly to learn. I hope I do as good of a job facilitating pride as my mama did.

*This is not due to my father not teaching and sharing. He shares AND teaches. Always has. Fabulous Daddy-friend. Bonus: If you need to know anything about the Middle East or music, he's your guy... and he's Judah's favorite person.

**Although I do think that white skin is very pretty too. Just high maintenance.


Eastiopians said...

I totally agree that white skin is high maintenance...I turn red and freckle like a mad-woman. :) And I love being outdoors so it is a struggle. But, I still dig it, just as I dig all skin tones. I love your post. I have already been faced with people who whisper "black" as if it's a bad word, and I picture my future daughter and how I would react. How I will react, even now. Right now I feel like I grow fangs and want to I hope I can use that anger and that energy to protect and to teach pride. I love your little man and you are a good mama.

Amy B. said...

Thanks so much for writing this, Danielle. What an insightful and powerful post. I struggle so often with what to say in regards to rude or outright racist remarks. Because I feel like we ALL have the right to be offended if someone makes a racial remark...even if it is not our skin color that is being referenced. I feel more emboldened by reading your post. Thanks.

Lindy Young said...

I've worried about this like crazy. My scenario is that I'm on a subway in New York city and someone makes some racial slur about my daughter, or about me and my daughter, something. And how will I be able to respond with grace and kindness, the way I think that SHE would want to respond if she were older and understood things more, and yet still somehow defending her ... I don't know. I can only think that I will probably punch someone. (Okay, probably not, but that's truly all I can think of), but I guess I'm more likely to just stand there inept and dumbstruck and stupid and then get off at the next stop and cry myself to sleep that night. But the thing is .... oh. What's the thing.

I think Amy B's comment is right on -- that we DO all have the right to be offended by racism. Maybe, the duty to be. If she and I were BOTH black, I could muster up some grace and some thoughtfulness in the face of ignorance and teach my daughter how to handle racism. Possibly, anyway. But if a slur is directed at HER, I feel like I owe it to her to defend defend defend. To hell with grace. Grace is for my OWN battles. For her, I would rip someone's heart out. But what will that teach her? Geez. I'm going to bed. Thank you, as always, for posting. For now, I'm glad I live in Senegal! These things really just don't come up here.

Lori said...

Thank you for sharing your heart. It is beautiful! I'm sorry you had to hurt over what that person said in your company. It's something we think about as well. Especially as our daughter gets older and isn't in our little cocoon of life. It's scary as all get out. All we can do is prepare them and be there for them when they struggle. They will struggle at somepoint because of a comment or look or worse.

The good thing about it is that we've all had something that has come up in our lives to cause us a great amount of pain. While it will be different than Tessa's, it's still prepared me just as your upbringing prepared you. The fact that you are reflective of if and are preparing for it just shows what a terrific mom you are to Judah.

Evelyn said...

Hey, I didn't know you were also a Latina! Wonderful! I am 1/2 Brazilian and share a lot of your thoughts!

Happy New Year!

Jocelyn said...

Great post made me think a lot about how to instill that same pride in Pacey. I hope to be able to do this as well as your Mother obviously did!!

And yes, my white burning skin stinks:-)

Julia said...

Love, love, love this post. I've been thinking about this a lot lately myself and just wrote an adoption FAQ featuring something like: "I absolutely won't tolerate any form of racism directed to ANY racial/ethnic group in front of me or my kids. I've always felt this way but now I'm going to be a momma bear about it."

Totally jealous of your skin =}

Anonymous said...

As usual, great post Danielle! -Tanya

Nana said...

Funny how having our children makes us more vulnerable to intolerance. Things happen and we become a spectator because we do not KNOW how to respond without conflict. An apology is OK for the moment-but it's our behavior that teaches all for the long term. Learning as we go. Holding unto the hurt can be harmful. You are courageous to confront wrongs and right them. Talking calmly has it's benefits. Judah will love you for your wisdom. Love Nana.

susan said...

This brought tears to my eyes. I printed out this post and it is stored in my nightstand, so i can read it anytime I want. Dad always said I was an "Honorary Mexican." For 38 years he's been telling me that, and now I believe it.

susan said...

This brought tears to my eyes. I printed out this post and it is stored in my nightstand, so i can read it anytime I want. Dad always said I was an "Honorary Mexican." For 38 years he's been telling me that, and now I believe it.

Angie said...

Wow, GREAT post! Loved every word of it.

J'Laine said...

You are a gifted writer, a courageous woman, and an amazing mother. Thank you for this insightful post...I as well struggle with these issues on the inside. I have all these brilliant responses planed, but when the situation actually happens...I freeze in bewilderment that there are people that so hateful and so uneducated? Another huge problem, is that "these people" are usually my family or friends of my family that make the most ignorant comments...although I am quite sure they were unintended? But, I guess it is our job to educate is just a hard thing to do sometimes; when their comments cut right straight through your soul.
thank you again...