How America Taught Me I Was Mixed

Image: vinylmeister



Before the first time I visited this country, I had a version of what my identity was based on the pride of being from my homeland. That feeling you get when you hear the national anthem, see the flag or a national sports team wins at an international tournament.

However, more than acknowledging the color of my skin, I did not view myself as a part of any racial group. Don’t get me wrong, obviously I knew what I was not based on my appearance but I never thought or spoke in terms of my actual race.  And then, I came to the US as an exchange student in 1997 and started to learn the differences in people based on their race.

Is not like racism was foreign to me, not at all. There is a lot of racism in my country as well, but the bases for it are different, they go more in-line with skin color and socioeconomic status. However, going back to the Dominican Republic after my after my first summer in the United States I left this country convinced I was black. To me it was simple: “I am not white, I am dark, therefore I’m black.”

It took a few more summers and ultimately moving permanently to the United States to realized that the race issue was much more profound. Moreover, because I am mixed [yes, both Dominican parents but of different races] and I’m not too dark or too light I’ve experience how people of different races think I belong to that group only to be disappointed when I’m not.

For example, if I wear my hair straight I am mistaken for an Indian or Muslim woman. I can see even how some Muslim men disapprove when they think I am one of them and I’m not dressing appropriately for a woman of that religion. When is summer and my skin is darker and I wear my hair curly, many folks think I am African American. Sometimes, people just seem relieved when I speak in Spanish and they realize I’m a Latina and not what they thought [Indian, Muslim or African American].

Therefore, while I am a woman of color I cannot identify myself as black, and Dominican is just my nationality not my race. The question is: What am I? I am a mixed race Dominican, but ultimately I think I am a Latina -even if that’s not exactly a race- because is the only place where the different races and colors that make my family have room for coexisting.

Recently my mom moved with us and most people in my building have just assumed she is my mother-in-law. My husband, who is Dominican, is lighted-skinned and so is my mother. It is funny to me that even living in New York most people still cannot understand families that are of different shades. Especially because we all come from the same country, it’s interesting how we are somehow ‘taught’ to see ourselves as a race, something that we probably never thought of before.

I think all the debate about who is mixed and who’s not is interesting; however, my hope is that in the future we’ll have less conversations about the subject as we become a mixed nation in general. As this trend becomes more common, it will be more natural for everyone to see mixed families and hopefully it’ll just be part of the norm and not a topic for discussion.



  1. says

    Thank you for sharing your story, Dania. I'm a white girl coming from a place in Ohio where white and black are very clearly defined, & there really aren't any other categories. My husband is Mexican and here in Houston we bought a little house in an extremely diverse neighborhood with many different "types" of people and additionally, many many "mixed" kids. We know that at some point our son will begin to perceive all the racial BS of the larger society, but maybe in our little mini-world he will have more precious years of just being a kid. It's wonderful to see all the kids on the playgound together with little to no awareness of these categories yet.

    • Dania Santana says

      Hello Beth,
      I understand how is different for you the racial experience. It has a lot to do with the surroundings we have growing up and where we live in general. I believe that having lived a different reality and then coming to the US was an eye opener. I've always considered myself a liberal, open minded individual, but how you really react to certain things you can only know once you are exposed to it and gain more knowledge. Your son will definitely benefit from living in a mixed environment, that's whats going to be normal for him and that's a huge help for building confidence. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  2. carolyn says

    Dania, While I believe race or how we view race in Amerryka is a problem…it is a fact that race and racism exist in the Dominican Republic, just as it does in all the nations of the carribean.

  3. carolyn says

    Dania, While I believe race or how we view race in Amerryka is a problem…it is a fact that race and racism exist in the Dominican Republic, just as it does in all the nations of the carribean.

    • Dania Santana says

      Hello Carolyn,
      I agree with you, and I mentioned that in my post. There is definitely racism in the Dominican Republic, there is no denying that. I just think it shows in a different form and it makes sense if you think about people being racist when only one cultural background is shared. As opposed what happens in the US where people come from different places and have different set of cultural values; to me, that makes the way racism presents itself different. Still wrong in both cases, but different.

  4. says

    This post reminded me of a family vacation to Mexico. I went to an ice cream shop in Chihuahua, Mexico with about 17 cousins and second cousins. We are all Mexican and all come from the same family but look very diferent. The people at the ice cream shop thought we were a big group of tourists since there were so many of us. When my cousins explained I was the only tourist, the cashier remarked, "ah, es que vienen en todos los colores, sabores y tamanos"! I LOVED hearing that! It's so true and one of my favorite things about being Latina. We really do come in all colors, shapes and sizes, even within the same family!   

  5. Dania Santana says

    Hi Alicia! Yes, that's rather our strength and for all of us living in the US it is important to understand that, not only within our families, but within the Latino community. To know that variety makes us who we are and should be an element of unity not the separation. When it comes to family, it is great too, because you grow up accepting and loving people for who they are not because of how they look. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. says

    So bascially racism was ok for you while you were in DR, on the 'giving end' – yes I've there, I kniw how it works. But as soon as you came to the US that all changed didn't it.

    The fact you call yourself a 'latina' is based on the 'anything but black' mindset, even though DR clearly have afro genes. Why not just admit the self hate?