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.