My Journey to Mixed Remixed Pt 1: That little Mexican kid

I recently had the great good fortune of connecting with Heidi Durrow, best-selling author and founder of the Mixed Remixed Festival. This article is the first in a series that appeared on the Mixed Remixed Festival blog.

My introduction to racism came by way of the moniker “that little Mexican kid.” It all began with a girl that I had a huge crush on. Being the sentimental fool I was, I followed her around the schoolyard each day to make known the fact that she was the object of my affection.

Sadly, her take on my behavior was unflattering: she thought I was a friendless, cloying idiot with nothing to do but bother her. Truth told, she was right. I was an awkward 8 year-old whose social maturity was closer to age 6. I was also struggling with a crisis of identity that made interacting with others so disorienting that I altogether avoided the intimacy of friendship.

The moniker came about one day when, while literally following in my cherished one’s footsteps, a friend of hers spotted me and asked if I was “that little Mexican kid” she heard about. To this day, I remember the first and last names of both of those girls as well as the exact setting of this exchange. I also remember the way that girl said “Mexican” — in that tone that divides people into camps of “us” and “them,” and those two white girls were positively not in “Camp Mexican.” In short, I was the “them.”

I didn’t think of the comment as racist, and perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps it was racist but I took no offense because I am not Mexican. Or perhaps, because I am mixed race, I lacked the ethnic allegiance prerequisite to being vulnerable to racial epithet. (Ever wonder why white people are not as easily offended by racial slurs as the rest of us? But that’s a topic for another time.)

The moniker stuck — for years. It faded for a while around the 4th grade then came back with a vengeance in middle school when, coincidentally, I excelled in Spanish class. And this time the intent of the slur was crystal: “We don’t know what you are, but we do know what you are not: white. And that’s all we need to know to make it ok for us to abuse you.”

I knew I was different, but I was perplexed by the racist tenor of the incessant jeers. After all, my father is white. We lived in a white neighborhood (very, very white at the time) under the same roof as my white grandparents. Wasn’t that white enough to make me white? Then there was my mother, the eldest of ten children, two of whom emigrated from the Philippines to make their homes in the US. Did that make me Filipino? And did that also mean that I was Asian? In my mind the Chinese, Japanese and Korean were Asian, but I didn’t look like them nor did I feel like I belonged among them. And being only half Filipino, did I even qualify as an Asian?

“What are you?” is a dreaded question for mixed race folk. We are neither fish nor foul, exotic but slightly shy of ethnic, colorful but not quite white, multicultural by blood but acultural by practice, products of the global village but in a world all our own.

I’m “lucky” because I can pass. I’m not too brown, and I inherited more of my mothers Spanish features than Malay. On the outside I am the stuff of Horatio Alger, an upstanding citizen of white corporate America — a wife, two kids, a one-car garage overflowing with suburban detritus — living on the razor’s edge of mortgage payments and college savings.

So why is someone like me going to the Mixed Remixed Festival?

Because a life of passing takes a toll on you.

Because once you perfect playing the character you created to insulate yourself against questions like “What are you?” you begin to forget that you’re playing a character at all.

Because I have to believe that the identity crisis that has muddied my sense of self, made me a perpetual outsider and influenced every important decision that I have ever made is not uniquely mine — that other mixed race folk have similar stories. I want to find them so that I can find myself.