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

Lisa Olivencia

Owning Up

When I was in 3rd grade, a couple of my friends and I was playing on the noisy playground during our morning recess.  It was a nice sunny day with kids’ laughter and screaming all around.  The playground was always a relaxing retreat from the work in class.  Recess was a time where friends could gather and socialize.  The clean air in Laveen, AZ back in 1983 was refreshing and revitalizing.  When the air hit my lungs on each first morning recess, it gave an extra excitability to my body.

Then it happened, a girl who I played with every day came up to me and told me that her mom told her that I was adopted.  Evidently, the girl had approached her mom the day before and asked why her friend (me) was white and the mom was Mexican.  Her mom told her that that I was probably adopted.  I told her that I wasn’t.  She said, “Yes you are because your mom is Mexican and you are White”.  She thought that being adopted was the obvious answer. The other kids that were around started to chime in and agree with the girl.  Even though I knew the truth, I began to agree with them telling them that, “Yes, I am adopted”.  It made sense to them because my dad was White and I looked White and my mom was darker complected. 

The girl looked as though she were pleased that her observation was correct.  I felt badly, however, by lying and telling them that I was adopted.  I felt as if I had disowned my mom.  The grief actually did not hit me much until I went home that day and I saw my mom in the kitchen trying to get dinner ready.  My mom asked my how my day went and I told her “okay” and went to my room and cried.  My mom, realizing that something was wrong, followed me into my room.  She sat on my bedside and I told her the story.  I could not tell her enough how sorry I was and how much I loved her.  I told her that I did not understand why they would say that I was adopted just because I looked different than my mom.  She told me that she knows that I love her and that kids do not realize what they are saying.  She told me that some kids only look at the color of people’s skin.  She reassured me that I was not adopted and that she remembers the 26 hours of labor she went through to have me.  She pointed out similarities of our noses and eye shape. 

I do not really know why I had decided to agree with those kids that day, but after talking to my mom, I knew that I would never again do that.  The next day I went to school and could not wait for recess.  When our first recess came, I was with the same group of kids and I told them, “You know what, I lied.  I am not adopted.  My mom is my mom and my dad is my dad.  My complexion is like my dad’s, but my features are of my mom.  I’m lucky because I’m both Hispanic and White.  My mom says that I have a great natural tan because of this.”  The kids just looked at me as if they did not really care.  They just said “okay” and we went along with our day.
I usually think about this incident from 3rd grade whenever it comes time to choosing what ethnicity I am.  I have to do this when it comes to surveys, questionnaire’s or job applications.  Usually those types of questions ask for only one answer.  I do not have just one answer, I have two:  I am both Caucasian and Hispanic.  If I choose one or the other, it feels as though I am leaving out half of me…half of who I am.  I am Lisa, I am not Caucasian, I am not Hispanic, I am a combination of both.  If there was a category of Causpanic or Hiscasion, I would pick that.
I usually go against what I am told and pick both categories.  I figure applications will either stop asking or make the options more compatible.  If I am absolutely made to pick one or the other, I choose Hispanic.  This is when the incident of 3rd grade comes about.  I feel as if I had already disowned my mom once when I had lied and told my friend that I was adopted.  I knew that I would never want to do that again.  So now, I know that I look Caucasian anyway and if I choose Hispanic then people can figure out for themselves that I must be both.

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