She will meet my dad during her time in the Dominican Republic--and this "give back" ethic will come to dominate my understanding of inequity throughout my childhood--confounding any development of racialized ideas of injustice.
MOM JOINS PEACE CORPS
MOM + DAD GET MARRIED
The timeline below traces important moments throughout my life--specifically in relation to the development of my racial identity.
September 3rd in Chicago. I am the first biracial baby on either side of my family.
After 6 months of dating, my parents get married on Sept 1. This is my grandparent's first time in the DR. At the airport, my dad, who spoke no English, is instructed to greet my grandpa with the English phrase "Would you like a beer?"
My parents will often tell stories growing up of how poor they were in Chicago, and the $3,000 my grandpa lent them when they moved to Arizona. My dad will always speak of my grandpa in relation to this story--"He always treated me well." I will not understand until much later the racial implication of this.
MOVE TO ARIZONA
November 9, 1994. Benjamin. He will come to be central to how I define myself, and a partner in a racialized world where I have never quite felt like I fit in either half of my identity.
BABY BROTHER IS BORN
Now that my brother and I are old enough to withstand any illnesses that travel risks, we will visit the DR twice per year, but we never learn to speak Spanish, something that will come to cripple my Dominican identity development.
FIRST TRIP TO D.R.
During recess, in maybe kindergarten or 1st grade, a white classmate tells me I can't play in a game of "Cats" because cats aren't brown. I look down at my hand laced through the jungle gym platform and realize I'm brown. I can still see this image in my mind.
FIRST MEMORY OF RACE
Though my family never spoke explicitly of race, or of racism, my parents, I see now, were perpetually coaching me for a world that was not necessarily made for people that look like me. I have many memories of my dad sternly telling me "don't take shit from anyone." I don't really know when, but sometime in my early childhood, he told me a story that went something like this: "God was baking cookies, and some he undercooked (white people), and some he burnt (Black people), but then he made a batch that came out perfectly golden brown, and that's when he made you." This story will come to serve as a security blanket--that I will only in my adult life recognize as deeply colorist and problematic.
THE COOKIE STORY
My dad's mom passes away. On one of my last trips to the DR before college, my father and I visit her grave site in his hometown of Salcedo. He says, "There is nothing left for me here." This is one of the last times I go to the DR.
At the urging of my pageant queen high school best friend, I begin chemically straightening my hair. She tells me about a dream she has where I am skinny and have straight hair, so I take to dieting, and spending 3-4 hours in the salon every 4 months. I will continue to straighten my hair through college.
In the fall of my senior year, my AP science teacher dress codes me, announcing publicly that I need to go to the office halfway into a lab session. I am wearing a v-neck dress, and I am flooded with anger. Skinny white girls at my school wear ripped jeans, barely-there skirts, and tops, and are never dress coded. When I return to class to collect my belongings, my teacher tells me that there are just some things "girls like us" can't wear. She is fat, white, and her makeup is an oily pool. I am deeply offended by the comparison. I will revisit this story in Dr. Lesko's class on secondary school as an experience of the sexualization of adolescent female bodies of color.
In the spring of my senior year at University of Washington, I take my first class on race, where I read Mills's The Racial Contract and write a paper on anti-miscegenation laws. This class, and that text, serve as a foundation for my developing understandings of race and racism.
LOVING VS. VIRGINIA
Easter in Dallas. I am dating (and living with) a white man. His sister is housing study abroad students who share at Easter brunch that they are shocked when their friend is forbidden from going to prom with a Black boy. His mom politely explains that they would understand if they had grown up around Black people. We leave early, break up shortly after, and this is the last time I date a white man.
I am participating in an affinity group during a professional development session, where I share that I struggle to feel "authentically" Latina. The group leader admonishes that there are infinite ways to be Latinx, and the concept of "authenticity" is toxic. This revolutionizes my understanding of identity, but never seeps into my bones to stick. This internal argument of authenticity consumes me often.
From March to December, my brother is dating a white Instagram model. My disgust with whiteness is projected onto her, and their relationship drives my brother and I apart, as I delve deeper into my academic studies of race. She feels like the embodiment of white privilege, and I despise her presence at family holidays. I do not mask this. To this day, I pray my brother does not marry a white woman.
BEN + CLAUDIA
My second semester at TC. I take a doctoral seminar with Dr. Siegel, who tells me about a joke a colleague told her--that 5pm is referred to amongst the faculty as the "browning of the college" because that's when the students arrive. She praises me for being articulate. Her class is supposed to be about literacy and racial justice. I am not even a little surprised.
My first date in New York with another Dominican. I am quite sure the night I meet him that I want to marry him. We date for less than 3 weeks. When I don't know what "pernil" is, he tells me I'm not a real Dominican.
RICHARD & PERNIL
I take a job at a middle school in Brooklyn. I get the nickname "lightskin" from my coworker-turned-friend. I will later date the female PE teacher. One morning in March or May, I am late to work, and run out of the house without putting my curly hair in a bun. My girlfriend, and coworkers (predominantly of color) shower me in compliments. I have not straightened my hair since.
CURLY HAIRED & LIGHT SKINNED
Last month, I attend a bookclub in a trendy Brooklyn clothing story after hours. There are about 30 of us there, and the host asks everyone to share a "food that reminds you of childhood." The predominantly Black and brown faces light up speaking of curry goat, chicken and rice, grits, and other dishes that belong to Black and Latinx homes. I feel anxious. My white mom can cook Dominican rice and beans as good as my abuela, but I'm not sure I will pronounce it correct in Spanish, and what if I expose myself? I settle on "avocado--before it was trendy." I believe this answer buys me entrance to the community. It is an assertion of my "coloredness." I run through the scenario every few days over the following weeks wondering what I was trying to prove.
My Uncle Hector visits us at Christmastime. Ben converses easily with him in Spanish and I feel ostracized by this--Ben plays minor league baseball now and has been practicing his Spanish with his Dominican teammates--his campesinos. I stumble through sentences more clumsily. We sit down one afternoon and talk about the history of the Dominican Republic, that we all came from slaves, why that history is so hidden, why we grew up saying that Dominicans are "part native, part Spanish (as in Spain)." I will always struggle to identify as Afro-Latina--it feels something like robbery.