What It's Like to Be Multiracial in a Black and White World

Portrait of teenage girl
Portrait of teenage girl

It's difficult to find your place in the world, regardless of who you are.

Our society demands people fit into carefully calculated categories; mostly because we're lazy and want to know all there is to know about a person with a simple glance, and partly because we're terrified of what we can't see. So when you don't fit into a specific divide -- or identify with one too many -- it can be challenging, to feel like you belong to a collective "we."

Especially when you're multiracial in a world that only sees black and white.

I am half Puerto Rican, half Caucasian. My father was born in Puerto Rico, moving to the United States when he was nearing the middle years of grade school. His parents were born and raised in Puerto Rico; mi abuela caring for her sister at the tender age of 13 after leaving an orphanage, mi abuelo a member of the United States Air Force and the reason my father's family ended up living in the US.

My mother was born and raised in Rutland, South Dakota. She is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl-next-door beauty, coming from a long line of Norwegian descendants who traveled to this country to farm its land, tends its crops and raise its cattle.

I grew up with the smell of homemade Sofrito, forever staining our kitchen walls.

I grew up feeding cows and trapping raccoons during my summer trips to the Midwest.

I grew up begging my father to make arroz con pollo or pernil or, if it was a particularly cold day, asopao.

I grew up asking my mother to make fried chicken with mashed potatoes and her super secret gravy that, to this very day, no one has been able to mimic.

I grew up listening to my father and abuela speak Spanish. In fact, some of my favorite memories of my abuela are instances in which she would unknowingly switch from English to Spanish, usually when she was angry and her mouth moved faster than her brain could function.

I grew up hearing "Uff da" when my mother spoke to her parents over the phone about the town's latest gossip.

I grew up speaking Spanish to my father in front of friends or potential suitors, smiling and somewhat proud that we had access to a language no one around us could understand.

I also grew up feeling displaced. I wasn't completely out, but I wasn't completely in either. I had one Caucasian foot in the door of a middle class family -- living in a predominantly white neighborhood -- while one Hispanic foot was left out in the cold, constantly explaining why my last name was so long and complicated and difficult to spell.

I would look at the pictures my mother's parents took whenever we visited them in South Dakota -- my eyes resting on the only brown-haired, brown-eyed child. Everyone else, including my brother, were blonde-haired, blue-eyed and all-American, while I looked like an imposter or, at best, a black sheep.

I would smile and nod when my friends said I was "not hood enough to be Puerto Rican" or "just a perpetually tan, white girl." I didn't fit the stereotypical look they had in mind when they thought of a Hispanic woman, so, to them, I wasn't one at all. I was an imposter. A caricature. A self-involved white girl who was trying to make herself more "worldly" by associating with another race. Where were my giant hoop earrings? Where was my Spanish Harlem slang? Why wasn't I listening to Jennifer Lopez on repeat?

When I went to college in a small town in West Texas, I spent a good portion of my time tight-walking a cultural divide I didn't know, like or understand. To the Hispanic community, I was misappropriating a sacred heritage I couldn't have possibly experienced. To the Caucasian community, I was pathetically attempting to "fit in" with a group that was always slightly out of reach.

I was 19 when I experienced my first taste of racism, and while the act itself was shocking, it wasn't as shocking as someone treating me as a predominantly Hispanic individual. After sharing my first and last name with a receptionist, I was told a doctor couldn't see me because they were "booked." It wasn't until I explained to the woman that, despite my last name, I did have access to health insurance, that she offered me an appointment for that very afternoon.

I knew she thought I didn't have coverage because I was Hispanic.

I knew she thought I "looked more Hispanic" than I actually did.

When I found out I was a carrier of the Sickle Cell trait, but did not have the disease itself, I found it to be nothing short of telling. I would forever be stuck in the middle, grabbings bits and pieces of either side of myself but never fully committed to one legacy or the other.

And it seemed as if the very building blocks of my DNA knew it.

When I tried to connect and learn and experience more of my Puerto Rican heritage, I was made to feel foolish. I was told I didn't have the right to express the Hispanic side of my identity, because it was tainted with the history of another culture.

And even now, at 28 years of age and the mother to a mixed-raced son, I feel like I'm on the outside looking in on a country that doesn't want to welcome those who check more than one defining box. I'm still told I'm not "white enough" to feel this and I am not "Hispanic enough" to feel that, but what is really being said is:

You're too difficult to categorize, because of who you are.

So you don't have a place in this world at all.