We were in William Sonoma, admiring Le Creuset’s brand new color of cast iron cookware (a turquoise blue, the hue of Miami beach water), when a brown skinned woman wearing an apron embroidered with WS approached us. As her steps drew near, I dreamt of telling the woman, “Yes, we’ll take every piece you have in this whimsy turquoise, please. I’m Cuban and belong in Miami, just like this Dutch oven belongs in my kitchen. Thank you very much.”
But her eyes never caught mine. Her stride was so swift that her thick braid of straight, dark hair swung from side to side as she brought herself two inches from my husband’s tall frame. She was a short woman, and stood with her chin pointed towards the ceiling to look into my husband’s dark-skinned face. She asked him, “What tribe are you from?”
This happens to us more frequently than you might expect.
One day, while waiting in line at a Las Vegas (where we currently live) DMV, a frantic Latino couple grabbed his arm. The man asked my husband, “Eres Cubano?!? Hablas español?” All my husband could think to do was point to me.
He doesn’t speak Spanish, nor is he Cuban. He isn’t Native American Indian either. However, something about his high cheek bones and the red undertone in his skin make many people question if he is someone other than who he actually is.
None of those presumptions were difficult to process when it was just the two of us. He is African American, and stunningly handsome I might add. And me? I’m a brown Latina. A first generation US citizen, born to Cuban immigrants, my family speaks Spanish but English is the language I use most. An Americanized Latina could be my label, if you like that kind of thing. Sometimes, when I don’t have a tan and my hair is highlighted, I could pass as a dark White girl, but usually people question if I am Persian. Whatever the case, my husband and I were comfortable in our personal identities and, at the very least, aware of how the world perceived our identities to be.
Living and loving as a mixed couple was easy, although not so for everyone we knew. He had his life, I had mine, and together we closed the door to our bubble and made a world of acceptance. And when marriage was proposed, not a thought further than wanting to spend the rest of my life with him passed through my mind. It wasn’t until our daughter was born 18 months ago that I began to seriously examine the impact our blending identities had (and will have) on our sweet Alina.
Sadly, I know that my husband and I can not completely control the dynamics of how our daughter develops her personal identity. I realize that much of the way she will see herself will be entangled with how the world defines her. Although I’ve been told that Alina looks very much like me, it is obvious to most people we encounter that she is of mixed ethnicities. And she is! I would never deny that. But I worry our world of black and white will strip away from my baby the part of her that is me. The brown. The Latina. Hence, my fervor for raising a bilingual child is at its peak. In the sense that Spanish connects so many different Latin cultures, my hope is that it also connects Alina to her Latin roots. Because, no matter what the world might label her as, speaking Spanish will grant Alina ownership to half of who she is. Raising a bilingual child truly is a gift, of identity most of all.