“What ethnicity are you?” American.
Or do you want my life story?
Because apparently I’m a very unique looking person with brown eyes, dark brown curly hair, rounded nose, small gap tooth, light-medium complexion, and the few stringy gray hairs starting to crop up, it’s often difficult for people to label me as they would like to so that they can make their own judgments based on it. Many see me as mixed, or exotic as if from somewhere they may never have heard of. I’ve been told I have a very international look and have been told to speak Turkish by strangers from there who visited my live streams; Since then I have met a Turkish girl and I could see why someone might think that. Some people simply ask me to label myself for them by asking what I am, and I usually oblige.
As of late, I’ll start my answer simply with “American.” There is usually a surprised look on the asker’s face after I say this. It’s almost as if they don’t believe me. Almost as if because I’m not obviously white or black, that I might not be from here, even though I speak perfect English and it is the only language I know. When I continue on to tell them which two cultures my heritage is from, they are even more confused or surprised. I then have to explain my grandparents’ background, as well as how my parents met because these two places and cultures are so different from each other. I round it out by telling them I lived in the same house for my entire childhood until college. And that’s how I end up telling someone my entire life story just to explain that simple fact.
I am American.
It was all kumbaya growing up singing along with Schoolhouse Rock in a military town without a diversity problem, but especially in the later years of grade school and then college, there were no lack of race- and ethnicity-based cliques. This contributed to the feeling I always had of not belonging anywhere, but I was extremely fortunate to be part of a group of young people composed of all different races, ethnicities, and walks of life who found common interests with each other and became a group of friends.
It’s been amazing being born and raised in the United States with a background based in two different cultures. The two sides of my family are amazing and have allowed me to be part of all of their unique traditions. I wish there were more people like me who understand and appreciate being part of one family one day and a completely different one the next. Maybe that points to an overly simple reason for tension from minorities; we all wish there were more people like us. I have found as I’ve gotten older that it’s alarmingly easy to form habits from generalizations. I have a met a few other very aware mixed ethnicity people over the years, and they seem to understand the feeling of being caught in the middle that I sometimes feel. Perhaps more than others being able to identify with everyone else’s pain and consequently wishing people could learn to get along.
I’ve been told there’s a difference between nationality and ethnicity, but is there really? I would argue that there is an American ethnicity that is constantly developing in our still relatively young nation. There are subcultures within our huge expanse of land that are truly American and can’t be found elsewhere. When we visit other countries we say we are american. If we visit other countries of people who look like us, no one could tell the difference between an American and a person from that country; except for the way we dress, the way we speak, the way we act, and those are all social traditions that we ascribe ourselves to as Americans.
Because I am of mixed heritage, there is no other country of people who look exactly like me, except maybe by coincidence. I could almost always be told apart from the citizens of traditional Europe or Africa or Asia or the Middle East. I appreciate, embrace, and celebrate both parts of my heritage, but I identify myself by the way I live.