I have a dream of not being placed in a box


So it’s the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech. Well, the country has come a long way, but still has a very long way to go. Speaking as someone who grew up in the southern part of the US as a mixed-race/multi-ethnic person, I see it firsthand every day that we have a long way to go to reach acceptance and not see / judge people by their skin tone, hair type, perceived background, etc.

I grew up in one of the most liberal cities in the south. Contrary to popular belief, the liberal side can be just as hateful and harsh as the extreme conservative side. What I would like to know is what I personally have done to anyone to bring on stupid comments and judgments. Oh wait — I haven’t done anything. Absolutely nothing. I’m here — a human being who happens to have a family tree with branches in Native America, India, Africa, France, Spain, Norway, Romania, China, Ireland, Puerto Rico, and Quebec, Canada, eh? Yes.

People love placing people in boxes. I hate those stupid check boxes on employment and other forms. You know, the ones asking your racial and ethnic preference? I can literally check everything except Hawaiian and Pacific Islander! Sometimes I do check everything that applies to me. Other times I select multiracial/multiethnic or “more than one race” if those are options. I left it blank once when I applied for a job at a federal agency many years ago. The HR lady did not like that. She called me out in the middle of a room of applicants and told me I needed to fill it in. In front of God and everyone, I told her I wasn’t going to because I don’t fit neatly into any of the options. She was not happy with me raising my voice and calling her and the agency out on the absurdity of the check boxes. She pushed the paper toward me and I still refused. I told her my list of ancestral ingredients and said she could pick whichever one she thought I should fit in. She rolled her eyes and set my form aside. I have no idea what she put on the paper, if anything. I was hired and worked through the training session and quit when something much better and more enticing came along a couple of weeks later.

I also never filled out the check boxes when I went to college the first time around. It wasn’t until I graduated and saw my full transcript that I noticed the school listed me as Hispanic. Well, that’s part of the equation, but not the whole answer. I made an educated guess that they were going by my name and my mother’s name (they’re both Spanish names) and the fact that I was a member of the Spanish National Honor Society. Oh, my surname is a French name. Whatever.

As a young child in elementary school, I soooo did not fit in with any one group of kids. My mother has a fair complexion. My father is a shade or two darker than me. I have a medium brown tone—a nice natural tan! The Mexican, Central, and Native American classmates were the only ones who would ever really talk to me or hang out with me on the playground. I was fine with that. I still didn’t fully identify with either group. I just saw them as cool kids who wanted to actually hang out with me.

Well, there were the three really mean girls who just hated me. They were black and would have nothing to do with me. They often threatened to cut my hair, which was halfway down my back. I was called all sorts of names. To make matters worse, I slipped and fell in the cafeteria one day. They saw it and the teasing became much worse. It was around this time that my mother was in the hospital after having my brother. My dad was out of town. My mom’s sister was staying with me and my grandmother to help take care of things until my mom came home. Well, the evening I got home after the fall, I cried and cried and cried on my aunt’s lap about what had happened and what had been going on. She told me something that has remained with me to this day that helps me deal with racist, bigoted, non-colorblind people who try to place me in one box or the other. She told me that I have something that they are envious of—the best of multiple worlds. She told me that God used all the colors in the crayon box to make me who I am. I took it to heart and still think of that when I see a crayon box.

On a side note, I got even with those girls some time later by finally speaking up for myself—first time I did that at such a young age. I actually hit one of the girls on the playground one day. They never messed with me again. I’m sure they still talked about me behind my back, but never again to my face. A teacher called my parents and told them she was proud of me for finally standing up for myself! One of my first life tests. Go figure.

To those of you who like to place people in boxes because you judge books by their covers or because it just makes it easier for you to deal with the world, just stop it already. I, and others like me, do not fit into a box. Granted, there are a few of us who choose to identify culturally, racially, or ethnically with one part of our ancestral line, but many of us do not. There have been good and bad people in all of our families’ histories. This matters not to me. Every single person I’m genetically connected to on both sides of my family made me who I am today. One different person along the way and I would likely look completely different. They’re all a part of me and I’m not going to ignore or reject any of them just to make you more comfortable.

Deal with it, people! Don’t make me punch you in the face!