Mixed Race

Melanin Confession: The White Latinx Experience

“Okay, so I—I don’t know where I fit into all of this because I’m half white, half Latino. I’m ethnically-ambiguous, but I think people just assume that I’m white… so I kind of, like, fly under the radar in that sense… It’s really strange because identifying as Latino but coming off as white puts me in a weird position. People of both sides will say anything in front of me, ‘cus they think I’m with them. So I’ve found that I’ve had a lot less ignorant comments directed at me… I find that people feel comfortable saying them with me, even though I’m in a room full of Caucasian students talking about Latinos and I’m like ‘Alright, hold on, time out, I’m here”. Or if I’m in a room full of kids who aren’t white, they’ll be talking about white kids and I’m like ‘Hold on, still here’. I think the strangest time that happened was when I was with a group of people—mostly white students; a couple of black students were around—and someone was rapping and came to the part where he was supposed to say the N-word. And he kinda just cut off, and looked around the room… then these two girls started whispering and said ‘Oh, now that the room is diversified we can’t say that anymore’. And I got really uncomfortable for the obvious reasons… the assumption that we were in a white space and that minority students sort of invited themselves in really bothered me. I was raised with Puerto Rican pride; my dad always told me ‘be proud of being Latino, be proud’. So I felt kind of indirectly… not attacked, but sort of… othered, in that sense. Like I was in their space, even though it was everyone’s space. And so I didn’t say anything; I just totally let them off the hook. And it was also sort of strange because I didn’t want to correct them and bring up the issue of ‘what are you?’, ‘you don’t look x, y or z’…

I think there are a lot of people at Bard who have the right idea about talking about race and approaching it. And I don’t want to tell this story and ignore those people who consciously try to be aware of the space they’re in and how they welcome people into the space because there’s a lot of good things that do happen. But I think there’s a lack of confidence a lot of times at Bard in terms of how people talk about things. Like in classrooms, people have really interesting thoughts, but they preface them with ‘oh, I don’t have any experience with this, so…’. I think one of the best things you can do for someone is to prove them wrong. People should be conscious of where they are and who’s in the room—not only their words but their demeanor and inflection—but I think a lot of that awkwardness could be alleviated if people just said what they wanted to. I don’t know if that makes any sense…

The other side of it are people who think they’re doing the right thing and do it with such confidence—like the people in my story—but they’re just not. I remember there was some awful yak about someone wanting their summer tan goals to be like getting searched at an airport, as if that was a skin color. And then I remembered my parents being interrogated and it was humiliating and awful… It’s a false comparison… In order to move beyond this awkward place, you have to speak with confidence… know that you could be wrong, and be prepared to deal with that. And I’ve encountered either people who have really good thoughts and don’t know how to present them, or [people who] have really, really wrong opinions and thoughts and think they’re doing a service by voicing them, and I think those two ends of the spectrum need to be corrected.”

– Confused

 

Interview by Bianka Bell

Colour Line – A Monologue

Bianka Bell

 

See this line here?

This is the line in which I was born

Like a river it carries me

Straight, but only for so long

You see, a choice is needed to be made, always

Left, or right

But never both

For it is impossible

To go in two directions

At the same time

 

You see, this line defines me

Not only that, but it constrains me

Not only that, but it strangles me

Forcing me to will in its ways

 

But NO, this line encourages me

Its pinching clamps daring me to venture out

 

But if this line is earth, I am its subject

You see, it will allow me to escape

To explore

Anywhere I must

Anywhere I feel

To discover what would be

False connections

 

Because this line teases me, you see

It laughs, spits in my face, and steps on my soul

As I search for my soul

For what is and what’s not

For what I am to thee

 

It has a hold on me, this line

Like electromagnetic energy

Because, like earth, it uses its gravity to remind me

That I need not explore

And I needed not wander

And I need not wonder

For I was born on this line, and this line is where I shall stay

That anywhere else, I simply do not belong

 

It shows no empathy, this line

For it is a mere unit of measurement

180 degrees of burning fire

Fueling a fire inside of me

So hot the devil asks for forgiveness

 

Because that 180 degrees cannot be so mere

If it leeches onto its subjects

Latches onto their backs

And pulls them in

Tighter and tighter

Each time the dare wonder

“What could be?”

 

And that is me

The wanderer

The wonderer

The traveler-to-be

 

This line prompts false hope

Augments curiosity

Ultimately eliciting misery

 

This line tears hearts

Eats souls

Destroys dreams

 

And yet,

No matter how strongly we resent it

Or how deeply we hate it

Or how many times we attempt to part from it

We know, deep down

That we need this line

 

With its honest deceit

With its burning protection

The line shields us

 

From the harshness of the world

From the inconsistencies of ourselves

From the susceptibility of perpetual discontent

The line is our supreme guardian

Or maybe our greatest source of destruction

So, stay on your own line

Or maybe don’t

Just don’t be shocked

When you choose the wrong path

Or the right one

 

Because the line comes back, inevitably

Because, you see

 

You can venture away from the line

But the line will always hold firm within thee

Half

I was twelve and the girls in my class laughed at how I pronounced my last name. It was last period, English class, and I had just moved to Kuwait two months earlier. They would ask me what my full name was just to hear how my mouth wrongly fused together the syllables of my last name: Al-Banaa. The walls of the classroom were covered with cat posters inscribed with empty “never give up”s. When I was thirteen it was no different. I had long, brown waist-length hair and my cousins wearing hijab stared at me in a way that was incomprehensible. As I grew older I realized it was jealousy, admiration, a twisted kind of love. All I know now are twisted kinds of love.

I used to be friends with my cousins when I had first gotten to Kuwait, as I failed to make friends with the girls in my grade. I could understand bits and pieces of their quickly spoken sentences in Arabic­­––I could grasp the main idea. I had always been good at main ideas of things. We bought gummy strawberry rings and ate them in the backs of our older cousins’ cars as they talked in hushed tones about boys they thought were cute. Haram.

A handful of years later, I am the definition of the word to those girls, that are my family. I have two tattoos. I smoke out of the window of my apartment. Some of the shirts I wear would be deemed too low cut for their eyes. That is my home though. I feel out of place, here, in these cities where I look like I may belong, but it’s never quite enough. There is a jabbing ignorance in sharp questions asked about where I am from. I think of my cousins’ faces, eyes now smeared in a kohl similar to my own. A twisted kind of love. I am from a twisted kind of love that I call home.

***

At around 8 pm on weekends in high school, without fail, my father would ask me where I was planning on going. I had a list of lies, perfectly memorized, hiding in the back of my mind. A friend’s house, I would say, choosing from the 20 or so girlfriend’s names I knew he knew. Our living room reminded me of my father’s disposition. The beige couch and matching carpeting demanded seriousness, as did he. My father was uneasy if I ever tried to drop in a boy’s name with the girls I had listed. And there was no way he would let me be with a boy alone. I was a Kuwaiti girl, even if not all of the other Kuwaiti girls accepted me as one. I would embarrass him. The small wooden clock my father received from being on the board of the Islamic Club in Cornell reminded me that it was almost 8:30. He was probably expecting me to be at his house soon. Riding in the car, on the way to do something I was not supposed to, the houses, the hills of sand, even the trees all blended into one. But there were small things, the garbage can on the side of the street covered in ‘graffiti’ spelling out “Fuck,” the short man selling dates in the middle of a round-a-bout, that gave the neighborhood its character. Those are the details you actually remember when you’re older, as you’re telling someone about how something was. You remember how it is in your mind––that’s how it always will be.

This unnamed boy came to visit me during his first weekend of college. Both of us had left Kuwait to go to school, with an approximately 4 hour-long cramped bus ride separating us. Later on he would use the distance as an excuse for the vanishing act called love. We stayed in a small hotel with small soaps. We ate pizza at 1 am in a restaurant with a dirty glass window. Sometimes, oddly, with no clothes on, my face near the edge of his arm, I’d think of what my family would think, my father, my cousins. Haram. The mixed girl of the family, the mutt, sleeping beside a naked boy. I’d think that they didn’t understand love, but maybe that was me, because I was the one who thought it never ended. We smoked a joint while sitting on a grassy hill behind the hotel, staring into the forest. It knew something I didn’t. The trees moved under the blue lights and I could feel them inside my chest––their shadows scraping at the impending something between us. I got so high that I cried. I told him he felt different, not in a physical way. We fell asleep.

***

I was eight. I didn’t understand my history. I didn’t understand the patterns of flowers on my grandmother’s hands. All I knew was that the tea she poured me with milk and sugar tasted good in those gold cups. We used to visit Kuwait every other summer––the hottest part of the year, where every room in every house had the air conditioning on so high it cooled your bones. One time my cousin and I cracked an egg on the sidewalk and it cooked. I used to imagine the soles of my shoes sticking to the asphalt and melting.

Abiadh. The first time I heard that I had no idea what it meant. Later I would realize I had been called that. I was eight. I ran around the front yard of my grandparent’s house: a concrete slab, enclosed by more concrete slabs that made a fence. My brother and I used to say it wasn’t a real yard. Abiadh. I heard my cousin say, pointing at finger at me. The small hairs on my arms stuck up. The splintering fragments of light illuminated my skin, and how much lighter it was than theirs.

My father cracked a watermelon open on the marble countertop. I noticed the pink flesh of the watermelon surrounded in a white skin. Some of the seeds spilled onto the floor.

“Daddy, what does abiadh mean?”

Habibti, it means white. Why are you asking?”

***

“You should probably do something about the hair between your eyebrows.” The purple long-sleeve Abercrombie shirt was itchy on my arms. It was a Friday night, when I usually went off to a sleepover in some girls’ television room. I looked down at the dirty carpet stained by bright colored splotches. I wondered if one of the stains came from a cup of pink lemonade.

“Hello? Sophia? I’m talking to you.” This was when I started to note my differences. In third grade, my arms started to sprout small, dark hairs that my light-haired friends didn’t have. My hair was thick, typically braided down my back. My mom used to sit me in front of the mirror and brush it as I cringed, the pain pink, throbbing behind my closed eyes. I remember watching her in the mirror, envying her wispy, blonde hair. And, apparently, I was now growing a unibrow. I picked up a spoon, looking at myself in the metallic reflection. I felt like I was always looking for something to fix.

“See? Right…there.” My friend Elizabeth leaned over and grazed the middle of my eyebrows with her index finger.

“Okay.” I swallowed, thinking of how badly wax strips hurt.

***

When I graduated from high school I was eighteen. My graduation was in a ballroom, lit up by gold chandeliers, draped in white, with red velvet chairs. As each student’s name was called, their families erupted from their seats, shouting with excitement and underlined with a certain, hidden sadness. I remember my parents’ faces, staring up at me from the faces I didn’t know the names of. They looked proud, my mother’s smile lined in a pale pink. They looked worried, my father’s brow slightly furrowed, pinched in the middle like a piece of pottery. I remember trying to imagine the first time my dad saw my mom and how she probably looked so different but so beautiful to him. I want something like that. A person to love me because I scare them, because I am nothing they know. I can see my dad meeting my grandfather and not looking him in the eyes because that’s how he showed his respect to an elder. It was a foreign custom and so was he. I want that love. The love that is haunting because it’s what people say “isn’t right.”

***

Sometimes I still dream about my orange bedroom at home, the dust storms lingering outside of my window, the crooked Arabic graffiti marking the school across the street. When I was in tenth grade I had stayed in my bed for a whole year, only leaving once to go on a family vacation to a beach resort. It was the first time I got sunburnt––my skin turning olive to a blistering red. So many layers of myself lie in that bed.

 

 

Sophia Al-Banaa

 

‘Out of Place’ – A Monologue by Marley Alford

“Being multiracial is a gift. It is the gift of choice. You are given a ticket to anywhere. You can inhabit any space as a temporary resident. You have legitimacy but not full ownership of several cultures. It is up to you how you will use this choice.

 

Growing up, I have only been conscious of my race in terms of where I felt out of place. I lived in upstate NY, in the hippy town of Woodstock, but I wasn’t white. I lived in Japan, but I wasn’t Asian. At my aunt’s Thanksgiving dinner, I am not black. These realizations made me uncomfortable, so I buried them away and stuck to what I knew best, trying to fit in with the majority.

 

Now I’m at Bard, and I can’t hide anymore. Now I’m at Bard, and there is tension and dialogue and questions about an identity that I have never explored. I have a cute answer, saying that I am a panda – white, black, and asian! But maybe that is just another way of hiding.

 

I’ve been called many things, and I’m always flattered. They say I could be hispanic, Indian, filipina. I like the possibilities.  But I don’t own them.

 

I’m used to being a minority. In my town, sweet smiling faces complimented my skin tone, glad that their children were friends with someone diverse. My response to this was usually to try and prove that I wasn’t any different.

 

On the flip-side of the coin, POC have said to me, “Nah, you’re brown, but you’re not brown, you know?”

 

I think that trying to fit in for so long has created a barrier that stops me from exploring the rest of my identity. I have inhabited my familiar white middle class role so well that now… I have doubt, like:

 

Do I count?  Am I allowed to talk about race?  Do I count if I’m not part of a defined ethnic group?

 

The truth is that there isn’t one way to perform a race. Although I seem to equate “white” with my accent, my mannerisms, and the ginger approach I take to the topic of race, I know that any person can show these attributes. I cannot let society or my own fears prevent me from reclaiming the title of Woman of Color. I am not an impostor in this category.

 

I am not out of place.”

 

 

Out of Place, by Marley Alford

Performed in the Spring of 2015 Bard College ‘Race Monologues’

A Melanin Confession – “Racially Ambiguous”

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“Most people are curious about what race I am, ‘cus I’m kinda ambiguous. So I’m used to people asking me, ‘what are you?’ Or, ‘what’s your ethnicity?’—stuff like that. But, this was a weird occurrence because this random person came up to me in Kline—this person I didn’t know at all—and she was like, ‘So, where are you from?’ And, I’m of two minds; on one hand, I don’t wanna discourage people from asking what I am… because it’s good to have open dialogue. But I also don’t wanna be a museum piece, ‘cus it kinda feels like I’m on exhibition; especially since I didn’t know this person at all… She didn’t even come up to me and say ‘hi’ or anything, she just asked ‘where are you from?’ And it’s not even like, where am I from, it’s like what’s my ethnicity—a totally different thing. So it was just really weird, and I told her ‘I’m from [insert city name here]’, but I could tell that’s not what she wanted… and that was kinda, like, it. You don’t wanna be friends or something? I mean, that’s all you wanted to know? It was weird. I guess I just wanted to share because I think it’s important for people to know how to ask that question… when you say it like that, it’s as if that’s the only thing you noticed about the person, or that’s the only part of them that you’re interested in.”

– Racially Ambiguous