I do not understand. Isn’t today’s world a place where most people are afraid of stepping on toes, destroying networking opportunities, being labeled as bigoted or offensive or getting bodyslammed by a lawsuit? Is it all just some big band-aided smiling conspiracy to pretend racism doesn’t exist anymore?
I’m pretty sure that one of the main reasons I got into such a good school wasn’t my GPA or extensive list of after-school activities, but the fact that I’m Dominican, Moroccan and Israeli (with some black, Brazilian, Native American and Greek mixed in for the hell of it.) Oh yeah, and I’m Jewish. Classified in Latin as the extremely rare, mildly oxymoronic JewIsMinican.
I’m a mutt and I’m proud. I will happily proclaim my heritage loud and far, and no, it’s not just to grease wheels or ride the Affirmative Action train. My mother raised me close to my roots, teaching me salsa and arroz-con-pollo and the right time for sass. She also taught how painful it was when that sass got you a chancleta (unnecessarily huge flip flop) or a Adobo-coated ladle on the behind.
Although she didn’t really teach me Spanish, she taught me that when the sun shines while it’s raining, it means that somewhere in the world a witch is getting married. She taught me that the dream world and the real world are more intertwined than we think, and that one needs to be in touch with both to navigate the marble-coated, caution-taped quicksand of today.
What does this have to do with being Dominican? My mom’s country, and mine, is very far from ideal. It is incredibly poor, and has been repeatedly hammered by political and environmental devastation. But in the corners of my memory are flashing tails of brightly colored skirts, laughter intertwined with cigar smoke and hand drums, shimmying up my abuelo’s mango tree to get the sweet fruit of victory. It’s a dichotomy that shouldn’t exist, yet does. Just like the many-faced beast of today’s survival and my own double vision as a NOMAD GENer
My Israeli and Moroccan dad taught me to love Coke jealously and religiously, eat sunflower seeds like it was going out of style, be open and honest about my Israeli volcano temper but know when to take it easy and relax. He taught me to respect my body and the environment, to go scuba-diving and snorkeling off the coast of Eilat, and that the best weddings should have a pre-wedding dinner, pre-wedding, actual wedding…all with gossiping, terrible and thickly accented American 80’s cover songs, cheek-pinching relatives munching on pita bread and arguing. All on different nights, as a twelve-year-old girl, going from 3 PM till past 5 AM.
That same year he gave me my first hard apple cider, my first sangria, and my first buzz. He said if I was familiar with alcohol, I was less likely to abuse it. Personally, I think foreign parents have a much better handle on things, and there’s a reason that every other country but the U.S. doesn’t have a 21-year-old drinking age. Forbidden fruit + glamourous pop culture rep + loss of inhibitions and confidence boost + teenagers = binge drinking. Real head-scratcher, that is.
He taught me never to voice a political opinion with another Israeli unless I was prepared to debate until I lost said voice, to use lots of olive oil in my cooking, and that the desert holds infinitely more than it appears to. He taught me to love old movies and classic rock, that its okay to eat something you don’t recognize, and that open-air markets are a lost art that needs to be rehabbed.
Despite the extensive influence of my parents, it wasn’t easy to reconcile myself with myself. Having grown up and gone to college in predominantly white, affluent areas, sometimes it was hard to stay linked to my identity. That’s why when I saw this year’s census I was outraged. When I filled out job application after job application online I was outraged. When asked to identify myself on pretty much ANY OFFICIAL FORM I was outraged.
In the U.S. census, there was no option for “Arabic” or “Middle Eastern.” There was white, black, hispanic/latino, american indian/alaska native, asian, native hawaiian, 2 or more races, and other. Technically, one could argue that the Middle East is technically part of Asia. Technically can go screw itself, for all I care. With the Arabic population being a highly dominant force in, well, the entire world, I don’t see why it’s not an option for a U.S. citizen. Apparently, if you’re American, you’re not Arabic.
It’s pretty damn flimsy, but the excuse of technicality does at least exist for the Census.(Although, really. Jewish guilt trip now in hyperdrive, but come on, people.) Standardized application forms don’t even have the pretense of an excuse. When I go to the “race” section (which I always fill out because I feel it’s stupid to deny my identity just to “stick it to the man”) I see the same list as on the census, minus the slight change made to the “2 or more races” category. There is a parenthesis added that makes me want to curse just thinking about it: 2 or more races (non-Hispanic or Latino.)
WHAT?! Why can’t I be Latino AND biracial? Forgive the unsophisticated, unsuave use of caps but there’s really no other way to convey my complete incredulity. I repeat my question: how is this possible in today’s world? Why hasn’t some anonymous, Charlie-Brown’s-teacher-sounding bigwigs put their heads together in the latest futile attempt at consumerism: to please everybody, offend nobody, and most importantly, cover your ass?
Forget the oft-repeated mantra admonishing you to have your feet firmly on the ground. You need to have one foot plunged into the unknown cave of self-awareness, one foot covered by insurance and red tape, one hand monitored by the press and public, the other monitored by your government and big businesses (which are too often inextricably and disgustingly mated.) For good measure, your torso should be sporting name brands and wireless apps. You need a healthy dose of appreciation for the absurdity of life and people, and a high tolerance for willful ignorance. You also need a little paprika of insanity, just to make things a little spicier.
And let’s hope you have a socially and governmentally acceptable race, sexuality, and gender, or you’ll be up freak creek without a paddle.