A question that has always been asked of me since the dawn of my time has been “What are you?” This seemingly innocuous question evokes a wide range of emotions for me that has evolved over the years.
Since not many of you have met me, or maybe haven’t even seen a picture of me, you might not know where this question is going. It’s because of my looks. I’m multiracial. What people mean to ask me is, “What is your race?”, “What is your cultural heritage?”, “What’s your ethnicity?” However, it’s rarely phrased like that. Here’s me.
Want to take a guess at what my ethnicity is? Don’t worry, you’ll be wrong.
It’s funny, the guesses have changed since I’ve grown up and because of where I lived. When I lived in Toronto, I always got Chinese or some sort of Indian. Now, that I’ve moved to DC, I have people come up to me and speak Spanish to me (of which I do not know more than two words). When I was younger, I used to think of the coolest, simplest answer to the question. I would say “I’m Chinese!” which is partly true, but not fully. By the time I hit middle school, I was rambling off a list of what my parents had told me and often finished my rambling to notice that the person who had asked the question had walked away, uninterested in that much information. I loved checking off all the ethnicity boxes on my standardized tests in middle school. By high school, I conjured up a sassy, “I’m Canadian,” response which would usually garner the foolish, “You don’t look Canadian.” retort or the repetitive “No, no, I mean, what are you?”
This brings you up to the present. Literally, this post was sparked by a man on the metro just last week. As he was supposed to be handing out his Express newspapers, he took a break and asked me, “Excuse me?” so I pulled out one ear bud and responded, “Yes?” to which was followed up by, “What are you?” Depending on my range of emotions from riding the metro home with a bag of groceries and a bottle of wine weighing down on my shoulder, my responses could have ranged from, “A human,” to “Well, it’s frankly none-of your business.” However, I was in an okay mood since the metro wasn’t delayed that day and I had a bottle of wine in my bag, so I simply told him, “I’m from here.” But of course, no one is happy with that answer because I don’t look like I’m from here, right? So he continued to pester me with questions about my family lineage, how long have I been here, how long have my parents been here, etc. All to be responded with a vague, “Yep, I’ve been here a while.” At the end, he became frustrated and took a stab at it himself. “North African! For sure you’re North African!”
Now, a lot of people would take this negatively and call it “Racial Microaggressions” a term which I’m seeing pop-up more and more frequently in this age of being easily offended. I wouldn’t call it this at all because behind it all, people are just curious. People are interested in my looks. The problem I find with it is that they feel the need to place me into a box and I don’t fit in any pre-defined box. I never have. Not in Canada, not in the suburbs of Virginia, and not even in DC. My secondary issue is politeness. I’ve been raised to be very polite. So never would I stop someone on a train and ask them where their parents were from. I guess, maybe if you got to know me a little better I might be more open to the question. Probably, if I had to guess.
What being multiracial means to me is that I am not defined by my heritage or culture because I can create my own (At least for now…). What makes me me is me. I can pull from other traditions to make my own traditions for myself. I don’t have to fit into the Jewish tradition of only marrying a Jewish man because I’m only half Jewish. I don’t have to fit into the German tradition of loving beer going to Oktoberfest. Etcetera, etcetera. I am unique. There is no stereotype for me. In the end, it all boils down to the fact that I’m just a girl who loves drinking wine, is obsessed with puppies, and enjoys riding donkeys in her off-time.
If I was a better writer, I would probably leave you hanging because my ethnicity really doesn’t matter, as I just proved in my previous paragraph. However, it’s just too much fun! I am part Russian, German, Portuguese, Guyanese (West Indian), Chinese, Indian, and for the icing on the cake I’m Jewish and Canadian-born. Did you guess right?
P.S. I love this picture so much. I had such a hard time deciding what should be my header image for this post. I love it because bloggers love pineapples, duh. And the fact that I now think of the pineapple as a metaphor to the multicultural, multiracial person. Rock on you other pineapples in the sand at the beach!