Unsolicited Questions. Unsolicited Commentary.
I have spent a lifetime on the receiving end of questions and comments about my existence. These come from white people and people of color alike. The questions and comments range from sheer curiosity to outright hostility.
The park, age 8: “Is that your dad?” “Yup!” “But he’s white! Are you adopted?” “No. I’m 1/2 Ecuadorian and 1/2 Jewish.” “You can’t be both.” “Yes, I can. And I am.”
High School, age 16: “You need to stop speaking Spanish, Naomi. Speak English. We’re in America.” “I speak both.”
College, age 19: “Welcome to ADELANTE! The Hispanic/Latino Student Organization. ADELANTE stands for Asociación de Estudiantes Latino Americanos de Naciones Tropicales y Exóticas.” “Are you kidding me? Are we fruit? I know no Latino came up with that acronym.”
As mother to a 6-year-old who reads as white: “How long have you looked after him?” “Since he was in utero.” “Oh! He’s yours! He looks nothing like you.” “He does if you look beyond the surface.”
Walking my dying father down the hospital hallway, age 33: “Hi, Mr. E. How are you feeling? Is this your nurse?” “No. She’s my daughter.”
Today, out with my son: “You think you’re white, girl.”
I was thankfully raised to know these questions and comments are a reflection of our society, not of me. But they are telling. They reveal the racial chasm in our society — the notion of “us and them.” In this society you are either white or you are a person of color. A person like me and a family like mine defy that notion. Our very existence challenges “us and them” ideology. And people, rather than question the ideology, question me, question us. We are read as the problem. There can be no “us” without “them,” and many in our society rather than challenge the mindset, agree to it.
I not only disagree with it — I categorically reject it. I believe my strength lies in my complexity. I am a bilingual Ecuadorian, Jewish American. All of my ancestors breathed life into me. I am the essence of all of them.
Why is it that my existence challenges and even upsets others? I believe the curiosity, confusion, upset and hostility others feel about my family and me are illustrative of colonization, institutionalized racism, internalized racism, colorism, and of generational trauma.
We are a fragmented nation, with a refusal to own our history of genocide, slavery, xenophobia and a perpetuation of whiteness. A person like me and a family like mine sheds light on all of these elements, whether people are consciously aware of it or not. I am aware of it, and for that I am grateful.
The unsolicited questions and unsolicited commentary are not in fact about my family or me at all. They are about our system. It is our system that is the problem. It is our system that needs to change.