For me, growing up was kind of weird.
Let me backtrack a little actually, since my family is kind of weird and here’s why; I am “White-Spanic”. My parents married young (19) and not because they ‘had’ to. My father ran away from home at 15 and went to live with cousins, who lived next to my mother’s family. My mother fell in love with my father at first sight (aww) but there was just one teensy problem. My mother’s family is white. Not just white, but WHITE-white. My father’s family, on the other hand, is Hispanic. Working on cars at 3am, drinking in the front yard, cursing at the top of your lungs in Spanish- Hispanic.
My mother took one look at my father through the window and called her mother over. “You see that boy right there? I’m going to marry him.” (Keep in mind my mother is 15 at the time.) My grandfather sold the house and moved to another suburb within six months. Yet somehow the cultural barriers that family (on both sides mind you) imposed on them were overcome and they ended up together anyway. My grandfather disowned his daughter because of this, by the way.
So back to me growing up. I’m very light skinned and articulate, have been since I was a child, so when I went to school in a overwhelming majority Hispanic neighborhood was I picked on not just by the Hispanic kids for being light skinned, but by other races for having a Hispanic last name. I was both a part both cultures and apart from them as well. As I grew older I learned to benefit from this duality by exploiting both sides and playing one against the other as need be.
For example, I was home-schooled throughout high school (a story for another time), but walked my little brother to/from school every day. Some elderly ladies (probably grandmothers) stood at the school fence and kept watch over their charges like vultures, sharing the latest gossip. One day as I walked past them I heard one of them remark, “Mira este nino vago. Debe de estar en escuela, no caminando los calles!” [Pardon my poor Spanish punctuation] which loosely translated means, “Look at this troublemaker. He should be in school, not wandering the streets.” Never mind that I was walking my brother to and from school and that it wasn’t really any of their business… but it was the comment the second old biddy said that got my blood boiling. “Where is his mother?” she lamented in Spanish, “Probably out whoring.”
Pardon me? Really? How she made the jump from me not being in school to my mother being a whore is beyond me, but since when do things like facts get in the way of wild speculation and juicy gossip. Fuming, I hurried my brother to the playground and watched him play, catching snippets of the continuing conversation behind me as they proceeded to speculate my mother’s lack of control over me and probable drug use. Finally, I couldn’t take it any more and started walking home, my path taking me right past them once more. “Here he comes,” one muttered to the other, “I hope my granddaughters aren’t friends with this whitey,” the other hoped. Again, in Spanish.
As I passed them, I paused and looked them each in the eye and gave a small nod of the head. They nodded in reflex and then I said, “Que tiene buen dia, senoras.” [Have a nice day, ladies.] I would never of thought they’d be able to blanch that particular shade of green-white but their expressions?
I laughed all the way home and on my return later to pick up my brother, they were both across the street this time, furtively whispering to each other as I passed by on the other side. Lesson learned. Don’t ever assume someone doesn’t understand the language you are speaking in. I learned something through this experience, for good or ill I suppose, better to let people think you don’t understand until it is to your advantage.
Next Time on “Growing Up White-Spanic”:
I haven’t got the faintest idea actually. I’ll be writing things as they come to me on this topic…
Did you grow up in a multi-cultural household? Chime in over in the comments with your own story if you like, or post it on your page and send me the link!