It’s a hot summer afternoon, and I’m standing at the custom-made bar in the backyard of my mother’s cousin’s 3,000 square foot home in an affluent Fullerton neighborhood. I have gathered here with a few members of my extended family. We’re having a get together “before the kids go back to school.” I’m fucking thrilled. Anyway…

I’ve just put a piece of melon in my mouth when I hear my uncle (my mother’s brother) start talking about me and my sister. He likes to make jokes and uncalled for comments. I prepare my eyes to roll.

The preparation proves unnecessary, however, because he is talking about how he wishes his sons would be more like us. He’s probably a little buzzed so I know he’s serious. He talks about how they need to get their heads out of the clouds and finish high school. He talks about their friends and their perception of blackness. It seems my cousins like to use their blackness when it is most convenient for them. While this isn’t uncommon for most half black children to do, it is rarely mentioned aloud.

Then he says the word. I have already relaxed my eyes when it happens. He says a word so vile to my Fullerton cousins that they audibly gasp, and I fear the silver spoons in their mouths might hit the floor. My uncle calls his sons half-breeds. HALF-BREEDS. His sons who are black and white just like my clearly offended younger cousins.

“Did he just say half-breed?”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard too.”

The adults all share glances and chuckle slightly. One musters a response.

“You can call them that when you make them.”

“Isn’t mulatto or mixed another word?”

I think what my cousin wanted to say while adjusting the spoon in his mouth was aren’t those nicer words? Less discriminatory words? Words that allow me to feel good about myself? I rolled my eyes.

I wasn’t shocked by the word. I wasn’t shocked by cousins’ reaction. I was shocked they hadn’t already been called half-breeds in their life. I’ve dealt with almost every micro and macro-aggression you can imagine. None of it bothered me as a child, and it doesn’t bother me much now as a young adult.

Growing up I never assumed race or ethnicity because nothing about me could be assumed. As I got older and racial cliques became a thing I had to deal with, it was difficult to fuse into one because I wasn’t fully black or Mexican. Even though I considered myself as much an authority on either culture as my pure bred counterparts, I was rejected as an insider by both, but accepted as a knowledgeable outsider.

My mother is a black Canadian who grew up with white people who spoke French. My father is a Mexican American (Chicano if you ask him) who grew up in East Los Angeles. I am black and Mexican. I was born and raised in the South Bay. As a child, I got my hair cut and bought new shoes in East LA. I attended birthday parties in African-American neighborhoods. I played softball in Torrance. I looked Mexican. I looked black. I looked different. The color of my skin and texture of my hair was always praised even as I was being torn down.

“I am of the north and the south

Of corn bread and corn tortillas”

Those are the first two lines of a poem I wrote for my tenth grade English class. I don’t remember the rest or have a copy of it, but I remember those two lines and how proud I was of them. I was proud of my mixed culture. I was proud of my unique experience. I was proud of my tan skin and dark hair. I was proud of my dark brown eyes. I was proud to note that I am black and Mexican on every form that asked. I was proud to have people voice their opinion about me. I am still proud.

Being a minority is hard. Being a two-in-one can often be harder, especially when you’re trying to find your place in the world, but I have never felt strictly defined or hindered by the color of my skin. It did not matter if I was seen as black or brown, I have always been proud. And I will continue to be proud of the cultures I identify with and embrace my truth.

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