SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2008 Personal Memory Ethnographies
Are all those yours?
When I was seven my family decided that instead of having another biological child they wanted to adopt. My parents chose to adopt through the Arizona foster care system. Over the next few years, instead of just adopting one child, my family ended up with four adopted children of various ethnic backgrounds. My father is Mexican, he immigrated when he was three with his family and my mother is Canadian with a Scots-Irish background, both are still citizens of their home countries but not yet citizens of the United States. I have one biological brother and sister, we all have medium complexions, dark hair and light eyes, being half Mexican and half white. Of my adopted siblings, one is white with blonde hair and blue eyes. The other three are Mexican, two with medium complexions but with black hair and brown eyes and the other has a dark complexion with black hair and dark brown eyes.
I am the oldest of all my siblings, the youngest being eight years younger than me. I was about ten at the time of this incident so the two youngest were only one. My mom is a stay at home mom and usually took us everywhere she went to perform various errands. We live in the West Valley and the closest grocery store at that time was in Sun City. We all unloaded out of our Suburban and went into an ABCO. We always had to push two carts, one for the kids and then another for the groceries. Since I was the oldest I usually pushed the cart with the groceries. I remember how cold the bar would be on my hands and how I could barely see over the top of the cart. It makes me laugh when I see other large families in the grocery store with their two carts.
While we were walking through the store an elderly lady stopped my mom. She asked, “Are all these yours?” My mother replied that we all were hers. Then the old woman said, “Well I figured that one was,” pointing at my blonde haired sister. She then asked whether my mom was babysitting, again my mother replied that we were in fact all hers. At that the old woman said, “Well you have been busy, haven’t you ever heard of TV?”
Her statement has stuck in my mind for a long time. I think that is the first time that I ever recall feeling that I was different. I remember wondering why the old woman did not think that I was my mother’s child just because I did not look exactly like her. I remember how angry my mom got at this old woman in particular. I had seen the stares and heard my mom answer the accusing question, “They are all yours?” many, many times. This incident wasn’t even that dramatic but I think it stuck with me because it was the first time I was old enough to understand is what was really being asked. Every time that I pass that store I remember what happened and get angry all over again. I still hear those same questions asked of my mom and dad and see the stares that we get because we all look so different.
This is what I imagine went on in the old woman’s mind:
As I walked through the grocery store one morning I came upon a woman with a brood of children clattering around her heels. All the children looked like they had different parents so I figured she must be babysitting. We kept passing each other in the aisles of the grocery store and she looked like she was shopping for ten. I wondered to myself what a nice young white girl would be doing with all those Mexican children. Curiosity got the best of me and I went over to ask about the kids. I asked her, “Are those all yours?” She explained to me that they were all her children. I didn’t think that that could be the case so I asked her again to be sure. I figured at least one of them had to be hers as she looked just like the mother, blonde hair and blue eyes. Again she told me that all those kids were hers. I thought to myself, “What is this world coming to? Why don’t people just stay where they belong? What would make this young woman get with a Mexican? Don’t we have enough of those here already? Hers is probably illegal.” I told her, “Well you have been busy, haven’t you ever heard of TV?” As I walked away from that woman and her kids I again wondered why she couldn’t have found someone like her. Why did she up and marry a Mexican? Well, maybe they weren’t even married. I know how those men are. Poor thing. I wonder what her parents think? I would never been even been allowed to date a Mexican…
This is an important incident in my personal history because it epitomizes how I have felt during various points in my life. My family and my mother’s virtue have come into question many times. People have asked me about who my “real” brothers and sisters are or if we all just have different dads. Not to say that there is anything wrong with siblings having different fathers. It’s the part of having to defend my family against the insinuations and questions about who is my mom’s child because they look white and who is not.
When looking at the world around this particular moment in the 1990’s it helps to put everything into a different perspective. I have explored some of the different events that may have influenced the woman in my experience. I feel that I can understand a little bit more why she acted the way she did, even if I still don’t agree with it. I know that in Arizona, then and still now, there is much controversy surrounding immigration. My family happens to be Mexican. There are lots of people who think all Mexicans are illegal and mistreat people just because they speak Spanish. I also think about how the woman must have felt about inter-racial marriage. She was an elderly woman who lived through the era before and during the civil rights movement when interracial marriage was actually illegal in many states. I don’t know where she was raised or what kind of preconceived notions she may harbor about that.
At the time of the incident I was only about 10 years old. I was a mature child but I was not really fully aware of the world around me. My world consisted of my family. I was aware that our family was different but I could not put it into a larger context. I don’t think that I ever really have thought about what was happing in the world at the time in relation to this memory. It is very interesting and it definitely helps to make me more understanding of the woman in my memory. Although, it still makes me angry to be asked those questions and to feel the stares of the people in the restaurants or stores but I feel like I have a better outlook on my situation now.
Now, looking at what is happening in our country, I feel like this borderland is being witnessed on a greater scale. This country has just passed a historical landmark; we just elected one of us, a multiracial subject, to lead our country as president. It is astounding how far we have come. With the increased immigration into the United States, multiracial people, like me, are becoming more and more prevalent. The greater diversity has resulted in the overturning of some discriminatory laws as well as a shift in prejudicial attitudes. We beginning to be able to embrace who we are, and draw on our strengths from our ethnic or racial differences to lift us up. This historical change in our country may be the beginning of greater understanding of who we are, and a bridge to unite us.
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