Go Back to Your Own People

Let me start out by saying that I adore my dad.  He’s awesome.  He’s got more kick ass in his little crooked finger than anyone I have ever known.  That being said, I have always been acutely aware that he is a human being.  I feel the same way about my mom, but this isn’t about her – this time.  We are all flawed.  Often kids grow up into adults that have a hard time recognizing and coming to grips with the fact that their parents are actual people who make mistakes and have their own set of problems.

The reason I bring it up is because it was during one of my dad’s weak and angry moments that he said something hateful to my mother because he knew how much it would hurt her.  He didn’t know how much it would shape me.  When I was a kid, probably about seven, I remember my parents coming home after a night out on the town and they were fighting.  They didn’t know I was awake, and that I was listening.  I heard my dad say to my mom, “Why don’t you go back to your own people.”  This confused me and infuriated me so much that I had the balls to storm out of my room and take on my dad.  I can’t remember what I said, something along the lines of not to talk to her like that, and if she goes back to her people, where would that leave me?  Who are my people?  I imagine my mother was terrified and probably a little proud.  I imagine that my dad couldn’t believe his ears.  I only remember that they sent me back to bed, probably told me to mind my own business because that’s one of my mother’s favorite fall back directions.  But it was my business.  It was the first time I remember really questioning who and what I am.

I remember thinking that I would go with my mom.  We would move in with her parents, my Nanny and Grandpa.  I always felt more comfortable with my mom’s side.  I fit with them.  I blended with them.  If they were her people, they were my people too.  And I was pretty OK with that for a long time – until I started learning about racism and began to understand why I had the experiences I did.  In the end, my mom and I didn’t go anywhere.  In fact, my parents are still together to this day.  So, I know that my parents love each other, and I never questioned how much they love me.  I get it now that my dad said what he did because as in all long-term relationships he knows exactly what buttons to push to send her over the edge and hurt her as bad as he can.  I imagine she can do it to him too, but I never heard her say anything that affected me as profoundly as what he said that night did. 

I’ve learned over the years that I will never really fit in anywhere.  I have cousins on my dad’s side that have a Hispanic/Latino parent.  At family reunions I joke that they are my primas.  For them, it’s their mother who is white and I feel like they are more whitewashed than I am but I don’t really know.  My friend says I’m a coconut because I’m brown on the outside and white on the inside.  I can’t think of anyone offhand on my mom’s side that has a white parent. 

I will leave you with a conversation I had with one of my white cousins in the local grocery store a couple of months ago.  I, of course, will protect her identity.

Me: “Hi Kelly!  How are you?”

Cousin: “Oh, Ginger!  I’m doing good honey how are you?”

Me: “Oh fine!  I haven’t seen you in so long!”

Cousin: “I know.  I never really leave the county.  How are your folks?”

Me: “Oh, the same.  They never change.  They’re fine.”

Cousin: “Are they still raising those little kids?”

Me: “Well, they have one for now.  My sister has custody of Stanley.” (Not his real name.)

Cousin: “Oh, and your brother?  How is he?”

Me: “He’s fine.  He lives next door to my sister.  We all live in the same neighborhood.”

Cousin: “Oh really?  I didn’t know he was back in town.  We haven’t hung out much as adults.  I remember when we were kids I always wanted to play with him but your mom would never let him come outside because she didn’t want him to get dark.”

 That’s all I remember because my brain shut off from being so pissed.  I don’t know which was worse, the fact that she thought it was perfectly OK to say that to me or the fact that I knew it was true.


About gingerestelle

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7 responses to “Go Back to Your Own People”

  1. Summer says :

    Let me start out by saying that I love you and miss you tons and can’t wait until we can reconnect! Second, I will just add a funny tidbit to your story topic. I am a “cinnamon twist” as well, I have never really thought too much about my racial identity until I married Jose and was very much the “white girl” of the family. In fact Jose’s uncle one time said “what’s your maiden name” and when I replied he said “No, not Romero, your real maiden name?” I’m still not sure what he meant or thought, but you can’t argue with stupid. Anyway, the funny part is that my daughter Samantha (though pale skinned) has almost black hair and even darker eyes, and is very much Hispanic looking. And my mom, well you’ve seen her, she is freckled with blue eyes and reddish brown hair. Sam’s papa is a 6ft 3in cowboy with a white beard and green eyes. They both adore Samantha like no one else on Earth. I walk behind them sometimes when they are headed into a store, Samantha walking hand-in-hand between them both. I see the looks they get, I wonder if sometimes people think they must have adopted or kidnapped her and then I see the expression “click” when they see me follwing behind and figure it all out. I just shake my head and laugh because when it all come’s down to it, white, black, or brown – family is what you make it – and sometimes the more interesting the better. 😉

  2. Brenda says :

    Although I know that every word you said in your post is true, I am constantly amazed that your experience is so much different from mine. I never really thought about belonging to one side or the other or one race or another. I guess it just wasn’t that impoprtant to me because I never experienced the racism that you have. Of course of our parent’s three children, I am the “white girl” of the family. I bet if you asked our brother, he would have a different perspective from either of ours.

    • gingerestelle says :

      Thank you for posting sis, I really appreciate it! I hope you keep coming back, it’s important to show the contrast within our own family. I’m sure that people just assume that you’re white, so you never had to deal with racism outright – but you have had to deal with it in other ways. There is a reason why we were raised as a family by ourselves and that’s all I’m going to say about that. I have talked to our brother about this quite a bit, and he says the same thing mom does and that I have heard from others – people just assume he’s Italian. I think he and I look more alike that you do to either of us, but frankly I see alot of Cherokee in him because he’s ruddy. Remember when we took that family picture and the photographer thought you and he were a couple? We couldn’t figure out why he kept positioning us in weird ways. That was funny…

  3. dailychicana says :

    I love how openly and honestly you write about this difficult memory. Also, I’m interested to see your sister’s reply. Even though my older sister and I are fully Mexican, being Mexican American is a more salient part of my identity than she feels it is for hers. She thinks I talk about race & ethnicity too much…but I kinda can’t help it, because I’m a professor and that’s what I teach. In any case, it’s just interesting to me to see that we all have such different experiences, even within the *same* immediate family!

  4. Vero says :

    Wow, it is really hard to talk about these kinds of things, but these memories make us who we are. My mom confused me alot when I was little. I always said I was “Spanish” when I was in elementary school. My mom’s family always said “Spanish” when talking about us or my dad. Hello, arent the Spanish from Europe? My dad was from Guatemala. Anyways, I wish my mom would have educated herself on the difference and what her children really were instead of going by what all Caucasions thought at the time.

    My dad worked alot and was not around us alot when we were growing up, but I have plenty of nice memories of both of my parents. They were just two different people, trying to blend their cultures. We spent more time with my mom’s family (Out of the 10 cousins from my mom’s side, only 1 of them is white, even today she kids around how all of her cousins are hispanic).

    I kinda mimicked my moms’ sentiments about my dads culture. She didnt like it. I dont know WHY she would choose a man of that ethnicity if she really didnt like it, but I guess love is blind. I became ashamed of my dad’s ethnicity, I didnt want to bring my white friends around, i did not want them to see my hispanic cousins. I was embarrassed when my dad came to school with my grandma for ‘grandparents day’, and they spoke spanish only to embarrass me in front of of everyone. I would receive birthday cards from Guatemala and hate that my dad just had to translate them for me. I hate the clothes my aunts brought me from Guatemala, the frilly hand made Mayan style dollies with the various colored threads and the colored roses around the collar. I hated it all and wanted to be completely anglo just like all of my friends. There were a couple hispanic kids at my school. And they tried to befriend me but I didnt want to be friends with a brown kid, because it was what I detested, it was a part of myself I hated. (Just off topic I remember, there was one girl who was white and hispanic just like me…for some reason our mothers thought we just HAD to be friends, even though I couldnt stand the girl.)

    As an adult I look back and wish someone would have taught me better. My dad felt I was ashamed and ignored me and stopped reading my cards to me. Was I really that much of a brat at 7 years old? Why didnt they talk to me, why couldnt I accept these things? If I would have embraced my culture as a child, maybe as an adult I wouldnt be trying so hard to search for it.

    Things did get better as I got older. I accepted who I was. How could I not? I look just like my dad’s mother. Everyone tells me I am the “Latina” and that I take mostly my dads side. As I got older, My dad started sharing things with me and parts of his culture that I thought I would never accept. He shared the music, he shared the dance, he shared the food. I grew to really love them. I love my father and I feel proud of who he was. My mother tried her best, and I love who she is. They are two different people who tried to raise bicultural children.

    I just realized I am beginning to write a novel, but this is my story. this is my journey. There is much more to come.

    • gingerestelle says :

      Vero said: I just realized I am beginning to write a novel, but this is my story. this is my journey. There is much more to come.

      Good. Perfect. That’s why I’m doing this! Keep it coming!

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