If you’ve been following my blog or social media for a while, you may already be aware of my ongoing identity crisis. A large part of that has been my race, not knowing my paternity and heritage for so long the questions about it were always awkward and uncomfortable to have.
Where are you from? People asked me this often and my reply was always “Adelaide”. Anyone who knows Adelaide knows how very white it is. My mother’s ancestors were from Cornwall mostly, Wales, Ireland but they were so white. Trying to explain my heritage was always a conversation I didn’t want to have. Until now.
Now I know. My mother is Australian of British Heritage. My father is Argentinian of Spanish Heritage. I am Latin Australian (is that even a thing?) and I want to embrace the culture and heritage I was denied.
I was 44 years old when I found out who my biological father was. I missed out on being taught to be bilingual and celebrating traditional holidays. I missed out on latin music being played at home and taught traditional dancing. It’s taken me some time to come to terms with who I am, to be able to embrace my heritage, because I didn’t think I had a right to call myself Latina. I wasn’t raised with the culture. Then my brother made a comment looking at one of my childhood photos. “You look very latina there.”
We had a conversation about how I didn’t feel like I had the right to identify. I felt a bit like an invader. “That’s not your fault” he told me. Our parents’ actions weren’t anything I could have controlled. It’s never to late to learn your culture. I took what he said to heart. He was right. I had been denied the truth and now I had it, I had the right to know more about where I was from. To live it.
I identify as many things and now, I am Latin Australian. I am mixed race. I know why I look the way I do. I want to learn Spanish fluently. I want to learn how to make Empanadas from scratch. I want to know as much about my South American and Spanish heritage as I do about my British heritage. I want to understand everything. The good and the bad, because I understand it’s not easy being a person of colour living in a white culture.
I struck up more conversations with cousins in South American and the USA learning more about the culture they live, the struggles they have. Particularly in the US where currently being South American is difficult. Black Lives Matter polarised this for me.
I have and always absolutely will, recognise my privilege having lighter skin, but for me this has been an issue in being recognised as biracial. I have lighter skin than my brothers, but darker than my sister. I have been allowed to be white. I was encouraged to be white. There was curiosity about my heritage but I was never encouraged to accept it.
I’ve been asked a number of times why I care so much about BLM. Besides the humanity of treating people equally I am very concerned about my family and they way they are and potentially could be treated. “It’s not going to affect you” someone told me. My family are affected. They are South American. They are Native American. They are Aboriginal Australian. They are Middle Eastern. They are constantly living in fear of racism and violence just because of the colour of their skin. “Well you’re lucky you look white then. You can pass.”
Yes, I pass as white. I am half white after all. Being half white doesn’t mean I just get to deny being half brown. It bothered me that people thought it was okay to say I was “lucky” to have fair skin and still not acknowledge their privilege. Acknowledge that people are treated badly just because of the colour of their skin.
That “luck” gets used against me as well. People assume I’ve never experienced racism, because I do, have and will continue to pass as white. I have experienced racism though. Trying to get into a club with a group of friends we were stopped. I was eyed off for a moment and because I wasn’t as dark as them I was let in, but they were stopped. “No they’re with me” I claimed ownership of my tribe. “Sorry we don’t let that kind in here.” I left with my group. “Mate, I AM that kind” I told them as we left. “Where are you from” a guy on a dating app asked. “Well, I’m from Adelaide but I’ve been in Brisbane 18 years now” I replied. “No I mean what country did you originate from” he interrogated. “Australia” I replied. “Really…. you don’t look Australian.” His suspicion continued with questions I answered about not knowing who my father was so I don’t know entirely I just knew I was born here, my mother was born here so I am Australian. This wasn’t good enough for him. I apparently didn’t “look” Australian so I had to be lying. He then became abusive.
The level of racism I have experienced may not be as bad as others but it’s still there and it still haunts my identity. White people who know me don’t want me to be Latina. They want me to stick with the comfort of pretending I’m white. I saw a friend share a comment by someone stating my friend can’t claim to be a person of colour, only that her heritage is. This made me so angry.
For hundreds of years Indigenous people have been ripped from their families (not just in Australia) and raised to pretend they’re white. I don’t know how many times I have been called a coconut (racial slur inferring the person is brown on the outside and white on the inside) and every time I’ve been called that it’s been by a white person. They accuse me of being an imposter pretending to be white. They refuse to allow me to belong.
I’m not allowed to be white, I’m not allowed to be a person of colour. I’m so very tired of society thinking they can allow me to be who I am.
I’m not letting them deny it any more. It’s in my blood. It’s my DNA. Now it will be part of my soul too. I am embracing all of my cultures. I am also standing with my black and brown brothers, sisters and cousins. People who try to say I don’t get to speak in that forum are also a part of the problem. I have never and never will deny my privilege, but I won’t be denied my right to be who I am.
If you’re not comfortable with me being white and brown, that’s on you. Not me. I won’t change me to make you feel better. Whether it’s my race, my disability, my gender, I will be who I am. No one will tell me I can’t be a person of colour just because in their opinion I’m not black enough. Opinions won’t keep me warm at night darling.