I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, a very segregated city like many in this country. I lived on the predominately black East Side of town and under the age of five, like most kids, I didn't have any concept of race outside of the fact that some people looked different from others.
For example, my uncle, aunt, and cousins came to visit from out of town when I was five. My uncle was married to a German woman and along with my little mixed cousin, who was my age, there were also her two older sisters, who were my aunt’s children from a previous marriage. I was too young to understand the concept of race or blended families. All I knew is that those cool, blond-haired, teenage girls were my cousins. I thought that everyone had people of different races in their families and it was a few years before I understood that they weren't my uncle's biological kids.
I first started becoming aware of race in kindergarten when I was informed that I would be bussed across town to go to school the following year in order to desegregate the schools. In the spring of my kindergarten year, we took a field trip to my new school and that’s when I noticed that there was something different. All the kids at my new school were “white” as opposed to me and my classmates who were all black. Actually, they were all Latino, mostly Puerto Rican. I asked my mom why and she explained that in the neighborhood where my new school was located that mostly Puerto Ricans lived there. Made sense to me and I didn't think anything of it after that.
The next couple of years were really enjoyable as I learned more Spanish in my bilingual first and second grade classes. (My mom had studied Spanish in high school and she had already taught me how to count to ten and say a few words in Spanish.) I even had my first crush in first grade, a boy named Miguel Rivera, who was in a grade above me.
In third grade, a new flavor was added to the mix. My class consisted of mostly Black and Middle Eastern kids. That year I took part in a Lebanese dance recital and learned a few words in Arabic. To me, multiculturalism was cool although I had no word to describe the concept at the time.
In fourth grade, I started going to school in my predominantly black neighborhood again but my ideas about race and culture were firmly in place, although at this time I was becoming more aware of race in terms of black and white.
It was 1984, the era of MTV and music videos. Thanks to my older cousin, I was listening to Duran Duran, The Go-Go’s, and Boy George at the age of nine, but I was equally happy listening to New Edition and DeBarge. I started reading teen magazines and I was exposed to mainstream culture while still living in the black community that I was born into. I knew that I had the best of all worlds and I could feel comfortable with black, white, or any other culture.
In Jr. High, I was bussed across town again. My school was a mixture of black, white, Latino, and Middle Eastern kids. We were on the verge of becoming teenagers and it was now time to pledge my allegiance to a group, but I couldn't pick one.
I was definitely different from the black girls who dressed in jeans, tee-shirts, and the latest brand of sneakers. I looked like a girl out of Seventeen Magazine with my stretch pants, long button-down shirts, and colorful socks. The “cool” black girls didn't accept me and even the ones that I went to elementary school with all of sudden shunned me. I would not change myself to fit in and as usual, my clique became multicultural. There was a blond girl named Tammy, who I bonded with over our mutual love for Bon Jovi and Poison. There were my Latina friends, Norma, Agueda, and Lisette, who I got to speak Spanish with. There was my best friend, Jenna, from my neighborhood, that I had known since first grade.
Still, I sometimes felt the pressure to “act black” when kids made comments and accused me of not being black enough. After awhile I began to wonder if they were right. One day when I was thirteen, I went home and stared at the posters on my wall. Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, Bon Jovi, the list went on. Except for Janet Jackson, they were all white and I was mortified. I hadn't even noticed before. I went and scoured all my poster magazines and found more black artists to add and I plastered my wall with posters of Five Star, Force MD’s, and UTFO, among others.
By ninth grade I had finally accepted myself and no longer felt the pressure to categorize everything in my life by race. When my first boyfriend (who was black) told me that he was going to get me some “real” music after eyeing my Poison, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and Def Leopard cassettes, I knew it was time to find another guy.
Since I've been an adult, I have always lived in multicultural neighborhoods and I no longer feel the pressure to be “black” or “white”. Just as when I was young, I know that I can fit in anywhere. I have dated people of many races and nationalities. My friends now are black, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Albanian, Korean, Georgian, and Mexican, among others. I have studied Spanish, French, and Japanese. I know a few words in several other languages including Hebrew, Turkish, Korean, and Portuguese. I know now that I don’t have to take sides. All I have to do is be the multicultural person that I am.
- Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture
A collaborative weblog discussing media coverage of the multiracial community.