Are you adopted?" That's the question people ask when they see my parents.
"No," I reply.
"Are you sure?" they often counter.
I'm never quite sure how to answer that one. I'm not completely sure. My parents tell me I'm their biological child but I don't remember my birth. I've seen the pictures but the alien-like creature covered in goo could have been someone else. It doesn't look like me but I don't think I'm adopted or was switched at birth. I don't know what to say. So, I simply smile and reply jokingly "Pretty sure," or "As sure as I can be."
The question has always bothered me. Even if I were adopted, would that mean that my parents aren't my parents? Would I introduce them as my adopted parents? I don't think so.
My mother is black, with a big Afro and coffee-brown skin; my father is white, with dead-straight light-brown hair and blue eyes. In The Color of Water, the author's white mother tells her half-black, half-white son that he is "the color of water." I am not the color of water; it's not that simple. I look like the perfect mix of mom and dad. My hair is straight but wavy and sometimes so frizzy that it looks like I've been electrocuted or just escaped from a mental ward. Depending on the season, my skin ranges from almost pasty white to light brown to olive. Since my parents look so different and I have so many of their traits, many people think I'm adopted.
My unrecognizable race allows me to pass for a million different races, many of which I've never heard of before. I'm honest about what I am but people never think I'm black. Most people describe me as "exotic looking," which translates to "what exactly are you?" They think I might be Latina, Filipina, Asian and white, Pacific Islander, and even sometimes Middle Eastern. It's kind of a compliment and I'm always impressed. The truth is so boring in comparison.
I went to a dinner with my mother and her Pakistani friend. The man stared at me and asked if I was Pakistani. Mom said, "No she's my daughter and her father's white."
The man replied, "Are you sure because you look like you could be from some particular region of Pakistan." I giggled as the man pressed my mother with the usual guesses as to my race.
I don't want to sound like one of those mixed-race, half-breed, multi-ethnic, or whatever-you-call-them kids who tell how their life was destroyed because they never fit in or weren't a member of either side. I'm not that.
It was never an issue growing up. In 2000, the Census Bureau rated Sacramento the most diverse city in the US. By diverse I don't mean that we had a lot of different kinds of people in the city, I mean that we have the different groups socializing, dating, going to school together, marrying, and mixing. Lots of my friends were mixed and no one cared that I was a "half-breed."
For the first time in my life, at the tender age of 21, my race is a bigger deal. My grandma wrote a book, When We Were Colored, a Mother's Story, and I'm promoting it. When I go to bookstores and tell them that my grandmother wrote a book about being colored, they stare at me in disbelief. I show them the family photo on the book cover and tell them that the chubby black baby on her father's lap is my mother — more disbelief.
They don't ask directly but I can tell what they're thinking. What is this girl of unknown race (they may not be sure what I am but I'm definitely not black) doing with a black mother/grandmother? And what is she doing using the word "colored?" Doesn't she know that's not politically correct? (Grandma is working on a new book which we may call Tales of a Negro Grandma and I dread going to bookstores with that word.) Still, people are always polite, just surprised. Sometimes they ask me what my family is like, fishing for an answer, mostly they say nothing.
I feel compelled to explain. I don't know why but I feel like I should satisfy their curiosity and I also feel I must prove that I am actually related to the beautiful black family on the book cover. "My father's white," I usually say, and that takes care of it.
Book events are more troubling. My aunts and uncles are immediately recognized as the author's children and people ask the black grandchildren, my cousins, if they're part of the family. But me — they just assume I'm some person hired to sell the book. When customers ask to take pictures of the whole family, they give me that, "Why is she trying to get in the picture?" look. That is until my mother explains that I am actually her daughter. Then they smile and mumble something about multiculturalism.
It bothers me that people think I'm not related because I'm proud of my family, proud that I come from a long line that endured slavery, survived segregation, and prospered. My grandma's grandfather was born a slave. After the Civil War, he started a shoe shop in Atlanta that thrived, and he was able to send his nine children to college. I'm also proud of the white side of my family. They were Texas sharecroppers who came to California during the Depression, a trip right out of Grapes of Wrath, but that's another story.
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