SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2014 Personal Memory Ethnographies
Different Perspectives in a Multiracial World
I moved to Phoenix when I was 8 years old. I had made a few friends in the third grade but also attended a summer program before my fourth grade year where I made friends with a girl that I still call one of my best friends to this day. Paige and I became even closer our fourth grade year by being in the same class.
I had never thought of our color differences until I was approached by a classmate on the playground. This little girl, who I will call Mary, approached me one day: “Hey”, she said. It was hot and the sun was shining brightly over the playground where Mary and I talked. “Isn’t Paige’s mom white and her dad is black?” I responded, “Yes….why?” The little girl said, “Oh isn’t that weird?” Mary’s statements about her feelings of weirdness with interracial coupling did not match the scene. At the time I did not notice because it felt like any other day, a day that seemed happy and un-clouded with the closed-minded thoughts this little girl did not realize she had. I told her that it wasn’t weird to me and left it at that.
I remember meeting Paige’s parents for the first time and not giving a second thought to the fact that they were not of the same race. But after the incident with Mary on the playground, I understood that this was maybe something not a lot of people were used to. The sound of children all around us that day gave me a sense of togetherness. Everywhere on the playground there were kids talking, yelling, laughing and having fun with their friends. We were all part of the same world and played games and sports like tetherball and foursquare together. I realize now that many children are naïve to differences in their peers but some are not, and there were probably children who viewed these differences with negative attitudes and didn’t share the sense of togetherness that I felt we all had.
Through Mary’s eyes, the situation could be told quite differently. Paige was one of my classmates; she and I had been going to school together since 3rd grade. I was not great friends with Paige, I only knew her as an acquaintance but the new girl at our school, Cece, became one of her best friends instantly.
One day for parent teacher conferences, Paige showed up with her parents. I will never forget how confused I felt. Her mother is white and her father is black? I had always assumed that both of Paige’s parents were of the same race. My parents are both white and I had never come in to contact with anyone who had parents of different races. What I knew of race was that it existed but was the same within families.
I decided to ask Cece if she realized that Paige’s parents are different races. She had to know because she was Paige’s best friend, and I was convinced Cece would see it as I did: as weird. When I asked her on the playground the next day, however, I got an entirely different response. She had known about this all along, it seemed. When I asked her if she felt it was weird that Paige’s mother is white and her father is black, she responded with a resounding “No.” and walked away without any explanation.
I had never seen an interracial couple before but I knew that I was friends with a lot of kids of different races; perhaps it wouldn’t be so strange to date or marry someone of a different race.
I had never experienced racial difference as racism before; no one had given me an impression that this mixing of races should be seen as weird or unexpected. For me, I know that my mother is white and my father is Hispanic so he is much darker skinned. No one ever asked me why or said anything that made me question why they were not “alike”, so to speak. I had not known a lot of other interracial couples as a child. But I learned that day that this was a “difference” and I was tragically aware that this difference was something a lot of people noticed and talked about because it seemed to be out of the ordinary. The main thing though, was that Mary’s question on the playground showed me how some other people think and just exactly what it meant to have perspective.
When I was little I remember strangers in our home and dressing up for a camera man. It wasn’t until I was older that my mother explained to me that the people in our home had come to interview her, our family, about why the children in our elementary school should be bussed to schools in the city. A lot of the parents were against racial integration in the school system but my mother spoke out for it. Knowing all of what I do now has particularly shaped how I feel about the incident with Mary that day. I had grown up around different ethnicities and races and Mary and I even attended a school that accommodated the same diversity; why would it be so weird for her to see an interracial couple?
Being raised during my younger years in Nebraska provided me with a lot of diversity because of the bussing program at my school. Coming to Phoenix when I was 8 years old, introduced me to much more but I already had made many friends of different races. When I became best friends with Paige, I knew no boundaries or borderlands until the day I was made to realize difference by Mary’s questions. Mary approached me on the playground in 1997 barely a few years after African American Rodney King was brutally beaten by the police and his offenders walked free of the crimes; the subsequent L.A. uprising left a residue of racial tension in the nation. Just four years before, a high school principal in Alabama declared he would cancel the school’s prom if any interracial couples were to show up. Without my knowing, the issue of race mixing had already had a long history in the U.S. and was still all too familiar in the world around us at the time. I had had a different experience than my peers and I too was blind to what my own multiracialism could mean for certain people who prefer to have each racial category neatly segregated into its own box.
My sense of identity has grown with my knowledge of many events that have occurred in the past and continue to occur today. I feel better equipped to relate to a variety of people I meet and I have the knowledge that the borderland of race still exists, that it is important and should not go unnoticed. The incident on the playground was very eye-opening to me. I discovered that day that it may not matter what kind of person I am inside because some people only see the outside. I have since then encountered other people that held the belief that interracial couples were doing something wrong; by having children they were “ruining the child’s life”. Today, my circle of friends consists of a group of girls who includes a half Japanese/half European mix, a half Mexican-half Italian, and a half Dominican-half Nicaraguan. If it weren’t for interracial dating, I’d be quite out of friends. Multiracialism is not likely to go away in any near or far future so it is important to recognize difference but in a positive way. Many of us would not be here today if it weren’t for the mixing of race.
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