I grew up in an interracial home. My father is Mexican and my mother is black. But, I never noticed growing up.
I am lucky to have a family that teaches me that even when races and cultures are noticeably different, love covers all differences. My multi-racial heritage is simple to me because it is all I have known. We have soul food, greens and cornbread, with traditional Mexican food, homemade tamales and Mexican rice. The colors in my house mix beautifully and lovingly.
My parents met in 1991 during college while they both went to Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas. My father was a waiter at a restaurant when my mom sat in his section. She slipped him her number along with a tip. My dad called her that night.
My father’s love letters to my mom whenever she would spend the weekends away from him sit in a shoebox tucked away from my curious eyes. I never asked whether my parents had any uneasiness toward dating outside of their race, but my parents did tell me about their families’ reactions to it.
My father’s Mexican family referred to my mother as “la negrita,” meaning “the black girl,” until they got engaged two years later. My mother was the only black person to join my extended family.
My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Sagora Quinella, Mexico. They became citizens in 1974. For a little while, they lived in Chicago, Illinois, where my dad was born, until they moved their family to Brady, Texas. They would live the rest of their life in rural San Angelo, Texas. Their home was the perfect place to pop fireworks and be lured into the house from the freshly made tortillas. My abuela died two years ago and my abuelo followed after her one year later.
The first time my father met my black grandmother, she asked him if he wanted something to eat. My father looked at her confused because he didn’t hear what she said. My grandmother took it as he didn’t speak English. She began to shout, “EAT! EAT!” while demonstrating what eating looked like to my bilingual father.She began to frantically circle her hand close to her mouth with an imaginary spoon.
My father just nodded and said, “Yes, please.” Innocent ignorance.
My parents had three children with unruly, curly hair and almond-colored skin. When I was in middle school, I distinctly remember my mother asking me,“Do you ever think about how you have a black mom and a Mexican dad?” she asked.
I had to stop whatever my middle school-self was doing to look at my parents — to really look at them. But, other than their skin color, I couldn’t find a difference or why I would have thought about their ethnicities and race before now. They were my parents and they happened to be from different nationalities. The only other time I paid attention to my ethnicity at a young age was in fourth grade when each student was supposed to bring a type of food to represent our cultural heritage. My mother and I made marble cupcakes, a chocolate and vanilla swirl cake because she said I was like a swirl of races and ethnicities.
At times, I do find it difficult to identify with both my heritages when the world just sees me as black. My mother attributes my lack of a second language to my father seeing his children as black. I have to remind even myself of my Mexican heritage that weighs equally on my perspective and in my blood.
However, for my parents, 23 years later and my parents are still married.
Hey, they did break up once: A couple of months after they started dating, the comments from my father’s aunts in Mexico began to crack their relationship.
“They said that black people were seen below Mexican people,” my dad said. “Mexican people were above black people. Even my mom would say that white people were above us, Mexicans were second and then there were black people.”
My dad has always said parents influence who their children marry more than they should. They got back together after my dad decided to ignore his family’s advice. Although we were the hybrid bunch during all large family get-togethers, my parents were loved by their in-laws and kin. My brothers and I were the beloved grandchildren that begged to stay for an extra night during summer vacations.
Now, as a young woman, my eyes tip-toe across racial boundaries that mean nothing to me. I am attracted to men both inside and outside my ethnic heritage. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with dating within one’s race, just like there is nothing wrong with dating outside one’s ethnic box.
When I think about my two separate heritages I think of my late grandmothers, cooking in their kitchens.
I remember my maternal grandmother sitting on a stool in front of her stove watching her German chocolate cake baking. The kitchen is a sauna from the summer heat and the stove. Sun rays shine on her black skin, and she looks at me. I think of my paternal grandmother standing, pressing the palm of her hands into dough that will become a flour tortilla. Her black hair curls under her ear as a November breeze pushes through the living room. She looks at me, too.
I think of the beauty of both of my cultures and how my parents’ love created me. I am black; I am Mexican. I am both.
Photos Courtesy of Kristina Valdez