My roommate and I have a running joke, the perfect encapsulation of our on-going dialogue about our place in society as the children of immigrants. What do white people eat for dinner? She is Korean and I am Sudanese and we are visibly otherenough so that when someone looks at us, they automatically bring with them a set of assumptions and act out a set of prejudices.
In his article “Black Heritage: A Fight For Identity”, The Stripes’ Kovey Coles outlines a few encounters where people have inquired of his heritage. Most of the encounters that he lists occurred abroad, between him and a nonnative English speaker. However, the article was mainly focused on Mr. Coles’ feeling that because many Blacks in American do not know their true heritage, any inquiry into their ancestry is insensitive.
As a Black person, I agree that it is somewhat insensitive, and I admit that I too have felt a twinge of envy when my lighter complexioned friends are able to claim certain percentages of German, Italian, Swiss, Portuguese, and perhaps even Native American descent. But the fact that he is discomforted by this question suggests that he sees our history as a source of shame, as something that needs to be covered up.
In high school I worked at the local Santa Cruz County Immigration Center in Watsonville, California, an agricultural town inhabited largely by Mexican immigrants and their descendants. One service we offered was assisting clients in filling out immigration paperwork, as the majority of them did not speak English and a number of them could not read or write, even in their native language. A peculiarity that stood out to me was how, when filling out the race and ethnicity section, we instructed all our clients to check Hispanic for ethnicity and white for race. Clients were periodically confused at the race box: why did they check white when in the United States they were constantly made aware of their non-whiteness?
Lupita Nyong’o. The name of the Kenyan-born actress is on everybody’s lips after she won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress last night. Nyong’o plays the physically and verbally abused slave Patsey in Twelve Years A Slave, and her acceptance speech reflected the grace, intelligence, and humility that she has demonstrated throughout the awards season. Her performance as Patsey is gripping and formidable, one that leaves you still reeling as you leave the theater. Continue reading
In my opinion, one of the cruelest things you can do to a modern, western, black individual is inquire into his or her ancestral background.
In America, people are rarely so insensitive, given their general knowledge of colonial history, but this frequently happens to me when I go abroad. And, quite frankly, it sucks. The inquiry almost always arises out of friendly intention and general curiosity, which is obvious when the questioner’s face lights up in a smile.
“So where are you from?”
In an article in The Daily Princetonian back in November, Ben Dinovelli wrote about “forgetting” his Asian identity. As a person of Asian descent adopted by White parents in the US, Dinovelli talks about how integration into campus culture is difficult because he feels the need to either embrace his Asian heritage or be part of a larger White society at Princeton. He seems to feel as if he is an outsider to both cultures and is actively trying to decide in which culture he’d be more comfortable. Dinovelli is dealing with a question that Asian Americans on campus often have: how does being an active member of the Asian community at Princeton affect you? Continue reading
Growing up, I always struggled with finding a stable identity of my own. I knew I was Latina, but I felt like I could only relate to Latina women in my family and never the ones on television and film who show how an “actual” Latina was supposed to be and act. In television programs, terms like “exotic” became the norm when describing tanned skinned, seemingly typical Latinas. Yet, it wasn’t until adolescence, when I began religiously immersing myself in pop culture, that I started to realize just how pervasive and damaging this one idea of what a Latina is actually was. Continue reading
I remember the first time I listened to Childish Gambino. It was my senior year, his album Camp had dropped that past November, and while surfing the web, I came across his music video for “Freaks and Geeks.” Although at first I was confused as to why Donald Glover from Community was filming himself rapping and moving sporadically (was that dancing?) around some random warehouse, I was quickly won over by his flow and his wit. Halfway through the song, one of his lines caught me by complete surprise. I paused the video and replayed it to make sure I had heard it correctly: “Love is a trip, but fucking is a sport / Are there Asian girls here? Minority Report!”.
What?! Did Asian girls just get a shout-out in a rap song?! I listened to the rest of the tracks in Camp, and there was no denying: Childish Gambino had yellow fever.
I was out shopping one day when a woman walked up to me and started casually speaking to me in Spanish. I stared at her for a moment and then quickly shifted my gaze around her to see if maybe my mom was close enough to hear my call, answer the woman’s question, and spare me the embarrassment of yet another “Lo siento. No hablo Español.” Continue reading
A few weeks ago, I helped my brother Matthew edit an essay for the seventh grade, a personal narrative about overcoming his fear of roller coasters. Having never ridden a roller coaster with him, I asked Matthew whether any of the story was true.
“No,” he responded, “I made most of it up to sound more American.”