One major adversity I face in life is simply being different from everyone else. I struggle with my identity because of my race. What am I? Am I black? Am I white? Am I Indian? Michael Jackson said it shouldn't matter if I'm black or white, right?
Let’s start from the very beginning. My parents are West Indian from the Island of Trinidad and Tobago. My dad is French Creole and white, but on his birth certificate his was race was labeled Negroid. My mother is West Indian, which means her roots come from India.
Being from the Caribbean, you are already considered a melting pot. When I was younger we lived in Brooklyn, New York, where you were embraced by many cultures and races. I blended in well! Not one soul questioned where I was from, or what race I belonged to. A rich culture filled with food, family, tradition, and lots of fun.
It wasn’t until I was 14, when we moved from New York to the Lone Star State of Texas, that I began to feel somewhat 'different.' I thought when we moved to Texas everything was going to be perfect. New state, new friends, and new environment. Boy, was I wrong. Not only was everything bigger in Texas, but so were my insecurities.
Settling into my surroundings, I was immediately hit with the red hot sting of racism and stereotypes, much like the humid and burning temperature swings of Texas. And it was always the same line of interrogating questions: "What are you? Are you Mexican? Wait, you look Puerto Rican. No, you look Indian."
It brought a new sense of awareness to what Heinz 57 really meant! Even within my own race the identity issue would follow me like a dark cloud on my brightest days. African-Americans would say, "You can’t be black because you have 'good hair.'" And Caucasians would say, "You don’t look white because you are too dark!" Even in the Indian communities, some people wouldn’t acknowledge me because I had both white and black in me. That meant, to them, I wasn’t 100% Indian.
Being a young girl in a new environment without having a strong sense of my own ethnicity, I slowly started to become insecure. I began to question everything about myself. When I would tell my parents my concerns, they did what any other parent would do. They would hug me and tell me, "Andrea, the next time someone asks you something about your race, tell them you are a human being!" I knew my parents meant well, but it didn’t change how it all made me feel. I still had to face this cruel new world every day feeling totally defenseless at times.
At the age of 17, I met a girl who was very similar to me. She was from the islands and also had a very diverse background. She helped helped me overcome my insecurities by explaining to me that being different is beautiful and I should embrace my melanin skin and long, beautiful, curly hair. She said, “You were born to stand out; not be the norm.” That helped me through the most crucial years from adolescence to adulthood.
Even with this new confidence and self-awareness, there’s still one challenge I face: marking my race on forms. Which box do I check? They say you can only check one but in many cases several apply to me. Why do I feel so 'boxed in' only being able to make one choice? Why did they have to remove the “other” box? That box would have made life easier for me...maybe.
I check “black” because that is the race I can identify more with. My dad’s mother passed away when he was a baby and I didn’t get a chance to meet the white side of his family. So, I was surrounded by many of my dad’s paternal side: the black side. Culturally, that’s what I have chosen from the food I eat, the music I listen to, and the experiences I’ve had.
I often think back to that melting pot in 1980s Brooklyn. For just a moment, before I moved to Texas, I was allowed to just be a human being without classifications and limitations. I remember how my parents' words of comfort sometimes did nothing to make me feel better. And now, as a mother, I’m faced with having those same conversations with my kids along with giving the loving and warm hugs my parents would give me.
But that, my friends, is another story for another day.