Half white, half Puerto Rican: Learning how to choose your own identity as a bi-racial teen.
Photo: Salsa, by Václav Synáček
You aren’t that old, but you aren’t that young either. At sixteen years old, you kind of know who you are and the future isn’t as ominous as it once was.
Growing up with a white father and Puerto Rican American mother was different to say the least. You weren’t raised speaking Spanish at home, and the words won’t roll off your tongue like your mother’s. Instead they are as choppy and mechanic as your dancing. You could never dance at family parties because you never picked up the Latina rhythm you were apparently supposed to inherit despite all that time you spent practicing in your room. No matter what you did, you were never as “Spanish” as everyone else.
Most of your middle and early high school years were spent enduring a never ending barrage of comments and questions regarding you race:
“Wait, so what are you?”
“You don’t look nothing like your mom.”
“I never would've thought you were Puerto Rican.”
“You're half white. That explains a lot.”
It always felt like all that really mattered was your race. The fact that you weren’t fully Hispanic or fully white made it so you couldn’t fit in with the white kids (not that there were any at your school). You also couldn’t hang out with the Hispanic kids because you didn’t make the cut. Your identity was becoming defined but everyone but you.
You felt isolated from your family and community. It was far easier to let your classmates give you a label and tell you what you could and couldn’t be then you than to create your own. Over time, however, when your peers started asking you question regarding your ethnicity, you started asking, “Why does it matter to you?” People eventually stopped probing as you learned to stand up for yourself.
With education and self-empowerment, identity starts to become less about other people's business and more about your own. It’s important to continuously train your mind and educate your peers about the role of race and ethnicity in our lives. By having more open discussions about topics that aren’t traditionally discussed around the dinner table or in classroom settings allows youth to be knowledgeable in a worldly sense. Becoming an advocate for yourself and having the strength to take the time to educate those around you makes all the difference. Telling a friend or a classmate that something they are saying is offensive allows a chance to learn, and bring that new knowledge home.
It’s easier to learn from mistakes when you approach self-advocacy and education with kindness and an open mind. Usually when someone is offensive they don't know how truly disgruntling their comments are because no one has ever told them. Discussing your opinions and values with your communities creates a safe space and an environment in which we can grow.
In today's world, it is very easy to hate ignorance instead of the teachable moments. Being kind in the face of ignorance can create a conversation that isn’t one-sided. Teaching others and having the ability to be open to new ideas will potentially make our community more self-aware.
Alameda Sky Chapman is entering her Junior year of high school and is both an athlete on a row team and also a 2016-2017 Advice Project Media intern. She resides in Brooklyn, New York.