A half-white Christmas

Off the Beat

alexa-vanhooser_mug-online

Content warning: offensive language 

All I want for Christmas is to stop being asked what I am.

The predominantly white, horrified face of the person asking this question tells me all that I need to know. These people are accustomed to the one-dimensionality of the faces and experiences of brown people in the media. My lack of outward “identifiers” of Latinx heritage baffles them.

Navigating this concept of “otherness” prevents me from fully immersing myself in the festivities and experiences of my cultures. As someone of multiracial heritage, I don’t feel as comfortable and secure during the holidays as I feel most people do. Rather than choosing gifts, I’m forced to choose between my two ethnicities. I either travel upstate to visit my Latinx family or stay home with my white family.

When I’m inevitably pressured to celebrate with my white family, the holidays feel like I am walking the line between authentic expression and hurt feelings. I start to feel like both the divorced parent and the disappointed child — I want to be everywhere at once, but someone ends up feeling forgotten.

Holidays feature an oh-so-enjoyable spread of racialized comments, political tag-teaming and the erasure of my identity. As far as traditions go, the only ones I can recall are being ridiculed for my pigmentation — or lack thereof — by family members chuckling that their residual tan makes them more Mexican than I am. Their ability to eat a spoonful of diluted salsa somehow proves that they know what it feels like to be brown.

Interacting with people I’ve known my whole life becomes the equivalent of sitting in the seat of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” with my choices narrowed down to two options. In this case though, Regis Philbin doesn’t give me money; he either antagonizes me for not being “ethnic” enough or invites me to his poorly seasoned dinner as a reward for passing as white and therefore inoffensive.

I am bitter that the distance almost always makes me choose one side over the other. Rather than my family being cognizant of the sacrifice such a choice requires me to take, they feel entitled to me. My biracialism makes my white family members see me as a sponge — riddled with imperfect holes, ready to absorb whatever comes my way. To them, I am soft on one side and rough on the other.  

While eating dinner, I carefully chew and swallow my fury and offense at their ignorance all at the expense of “keeping the peace.” While stuffing stockings, I tuck away my outspoken political beliefs and feel myself expand with shame. While opening gifts, I delicately unravel and unpack the colonization and fetishization they associate with my cocktail of cultures.

When talking to privileged people about the complexity of being biracial, I’m supposed to condense the entirety of my existence into a tiny, palatable box. White families like my own would prefer to customize me like an item in a Sears catalog. Their attitude toward me makes me wonder: what version of myself is welcome at their dinner table?

The light-skinned, inoffensive and muzzled one.

I’m pale enough to not threaten them because of my background — I am too brown to fit in, but white enough for them to speak freely. It’s less fun for them to feel like someone’s judging them for their ignorance. I won’t call out their racism, they think. I must understand where they’re coming from. I’m not crossing “their” border or stealing “their” jobs. I’m Latina, but not obviously so.  My outward ethnic ambiguity flies under their radar. It’s consumable and easy to digest.

My hooped earrings add a fashionable touch rather than a target on my back. My acrylic nails make me look polished rather than cheap. My bilingualism is employable, not detrimental. My fairness is beneficial, not exclusionary.

My facade of whiteness shatters when the muzzle slips. A shudder runs down their spine when I attempt to correct their views until my throat is raw and my face surges with heat. That’s when they realize I’m tainted with otherness. To them, it is obvious why I act this way, they perceive half of my identity as being composed of “rapists,” “drug dealers,” “job stealers,” and “government-funded leeches.”

What they fail to recognize is that the face of brownness is one of beauty, varying shades, different features, and multidimensionality. Latinx existence is multifaceted and complex. There is no face of this race.    

Being biracial does not signal incompleteness or an “inability to choose sides.” I can sing “Feliz Navidad” and “Merry Christmas.” I can roll masa between my hands as well as I can twirl garland around the fireplace. I don’t slip between the cracks, I expand them. Brownness isn’t notated by some restrictive Pantone color palette. Brownness is notated by heritage, depth and pride.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.