Life is a collection of moments, or so someone, somewhere once said. Here are three moments in my life that have shaped how I think about my races and have affected how I now carry myself and stand up for myself now.
I found myself, at 10 years old, the sudden center of attention in a room full of adults being told that I “look just like Pocahontas” and that my long, black hair was so beautiful” and that I was “lucky to be naturally tan”. I am not Native American, nor is my hair black, nor am I tan- tan is just the natural color of my skin. While I felt uncomfortable as everyone gawked at me (I was a very shy kid), I was too young to be offended by their comments. I assumed that me looking like Pocahontas was meant to be a compliment and yet, it didn't make me feel good about myself.
I got my first job at 17 as a small supermarket cashier. All the second-shift cashiers were Hispanic teenage girls and I just assumed they were looking for students who were free in the evenings and didn’t ask for too much pay (I fit that bill). One day, a few months into the job, an older Hispanic customer asked me a question in Spanish. When I politely replied “no habla Español”, they looked at me quizzically as if this fact were impossible. “No Spanish?” they said, unbelieving. “Yes Spanish! You- yes Spanish” they asserted. The manager came over and asked what the issue was. When I relayed the problem, he was surprised to learn not only did I not speak Spanish but that no part of me was Hispanic. After the customer left, he said he’d wish he knew that before hiring me and why didn't I tell him sooner? I simply replied, “I didn't know I had to”.
At one of my first jobs out of college, I was approached to be the cover model for a new American Government textbook. Flattered and embarrassed, I asked “why me”? I was told that I was “really pretty and also racially ambiguous”. I knew what that meant and how some thought that it was a good thing but to me it felt like I didn't have an identity. I wasn't anything so I could pass for anything.