SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2004        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Elizabeth Luna

Because You're White

My grandma is going to be mad at you because you’re white. 

These words came straight out of the mouth of a young child.  We all know that a child’s honesty can be very brutal at times, a sort of uncensored language. I had no idea that I could be judged so powerfully by the color my skin (most white people don’t).  I had always considered myself to be racially adjusted and understanding.  I grew up on the south side of Phoenix, I was familiar with Hispanic culture.  However, this was all stuff that I knew, they didn’t, and it would take time to figure out.

It was mid-morning on a Sunday, I was nervous because it was the first time that I was really meeting my fiancés family.  It was a warm day, the grass in the front yard was yellowing, the smell of stale cigarette smoke and beer was in the air.  I looked down the concrete path from the chain link gate to the front door contemplating whether or not I should really go in…. We walked up to the door and his younger cousin Brenda was standing there.  I think she was 5 years old at that time.  Then that happy laughing young child uttered the words that changed my idea of race for the rest of my life.  “My grandma is going to be mad at you because you’re white.”

In October 1999, I met my husband.  He is an immigrant (Hispanic) from Mexico who has only been here 9 years.  My husband’s family (especially the older generation) has very stereotypical attitudes in regard to white people.  The event that brought this idea of different races/stereotypes to the forefront of my mind was the first time that I went to his grandmother’s house.  Keep in mind that his grandmother was from Mexico and did not speak any English at all.

What is this girl doing with my grandson?  A white girl?  She can not take care of him the way that I can.  She seems nice and all but what is her reasoning?  There has to be some motive for dating a Mexican.  A good woman cooks, cleans and irons.  She’s white, not even Mexican-American, White!  She was not raised to know how to treat a man.

It had never dawned on me that my race/ethnicity would be such a major issue.  I was pretty upset because in this assumption of what “white” means it included things like I had money, I would never be able to cook for her grandson or keep a clean house.

I’ll bet she comes from money, how will she know what it is like to be poor.  There are no white people in this family.  How will she ever fit in?  She does not understand our culture, our background, I do not understand hers.  Their relationship will not last, they are just too different.

As I waited to meet his grandmother, I sat on the couch and stared at the Virgin Guadalupe in the bay window.  I was too terrified to move or speak. 

Why is she so quiet?  She does not make an effort to talk to me or to get on my good side.  I looked at her pretty sternly, maybe she is scared of me.  I am not as harsh as she thinks that I am, I just want what is best for Ivan.  Besides, I do not speak English and she does not speak Spanish, how will we ever communicate?

I was amazed that so much could be taken from a skin color.  I also learned that day the difference between Mexican/Americans and Mexicans from Mexico.  There is so much more female responsibility among the immigrant Mexicans.  
All this has changed now, we have been married for three years and have a beautiful daughter.  His grandmother actually passed away a year ago but we were on great terms before she died.

As time passes, I learn her background.  She grew up only a few miles down the road.  She also lived in a bad area.  She did not come from money.  Maybe she does not pride herself on her ability to cook, clean and take care of a husband but I can see the changes in my grandson.  They are married now and she is becoming a "good wife".  She is driven and has goals. The rest of the family likes her.  I gave her a chance and she proved to be a good person.  The communication barrier is still there but we have found our ways to get the message across.

When I look back on this moment in my life, I realize that his grandmother’s attitude toward my skin color was not so much a stab at me but more at a sense of the unknown and perceived knowledge.  I think that maybe I was more paranoid about the situation back then.  My husband still to this day insists that his grandmother’s initial cold shoulder toward me was not a racial thing.  It isn’t any more, but I think the change was brought around by
photo the amount of time I have spent with his family.  It was a weird feeling to have to adjust into a whole new culture.  My family accepted my husband right away (then again it was only my mom).  My family has always accepted all races and never said anything about race to me.  I think that my lack of information/discussion regarding other races may have led me to have a colorblind attitude.

This experience makes me wonder what my daughter Mya will face racially when she gets older being that she is multi-racial.  Only time will tell.  If you ask Mya what color she is, she says, “I’m a kinda lightish brownish”.  Funny how literally kids perceive skin color.   I believe that with the lessons that my husband and I have learned over the past years, we will have the knowledge to guide her through and prepare her for any situations that may arise.

Mexican + White = Kinda lightish brownish

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