Tuesday, November 1, 2011

So, what are you?

I call it the browning of America. Or maybe just the tanning.

Earbaby has a rainbow of friends at her new school. In this incredible, beautiful mix are kids from pretty much every nationality and they represent every neighborhood in the city. Instead of her being a minority in a sea of white faces, her friends are white, black, Asian and Latina. And because she is biracial, she looks, complexion-wise, like most of them.

"My friends keep speaking to me in Spanish,'' she says one day a few weeks ago. She has to remind them that she doesn't speak Spanish, at least not yet. We've had one of those Spanish immersion programs for months now, but haven't put the software on our computer yet.

But EB looks Spanish to her Latina friends. She is amused, bemused, when she is asked if she's Dominican. Or Puerto Rican. She wears her hair in cornrows most days, which she thought would make her instantly recognizable as African-American. But apparently some Spanish kids also have their hair in cornrows, and she also is coming from a neighborhood that has seen its Spanish-speaking population increase more than 400 percent from the time I moved here in 1985 to now. Before that it was an Italian neighborhood, and the Columbus Day parade still comes through here every other year, switching off with another historically Italian neighborhood.

But here, diversity is king (and queen). In addition to Spanish-speaking neighbors, we have neighbors from various parts of Asia, and there are some Portugese-speaking Brazilians in the mix. There are still Italians, Irish and African Americans in this part of the city, so even when her school wasn't as diverse, EB's neighborhood has been.

Middle school is when people start to define and refine themselves. EB has never had an issue with being in a multicultural family. She doesn't know any different, so it's her norm. And her new norm is with kids who are trying to also figure out who they are and where they fit. In this day and age, in a school that preaches acceptance for everyone (I was happy to see gay/straight alliance represented in her school), defining who you are, where your people are from, and what language is spoken at home is a source of pride and not angst.

"I'm African-American," she tells her friends. When they express disbelief she explains, her mom is black and her dad is white. For this her friends tease her, saying she is a fake Puerto Rican.

But this is what the next generation is going to look like. EB has a friend who is Italian, but in the summer, when they're both tanned and with EB's hair straightened, these two could pass for sisters. She could also pass for sisters with several of her Latina friends, who sometimes forget and speak to her in Spanish when they can't think of what they want to say in English fast enough.

There's no racism or malice in her friends' questions, no seeking to put each other in separate boxes of stereotypes. There's only curiosity, and then acceptance at this stage. I hope in these next years that doesn't change. There's so much ugliness out here in this country. So little tolerance, so much blind hate. I can't shield Earbaby, or anyone else's child, from all that, although I certainly would if I could. At least for now, there's no segregation at the lunch table.

She's proud, African and Irish American, happy, well-adjusted and a friend. EB and her friends are what a real post-racial America is going to look like. Someday. Let's hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment