I noticed early in my childhood I wasn’t as tan as my Mexican father, nor did my skin match my White mother’s. I’d often search in the mirror, unable to pinpoint a single feature that looked to come from either of them. I was too young to grasp what it meant to be biracial, or how it would shape my life.
My White grandmother raised me for most of my childhood, and I didn’t know much about my father until he was given custody of me when I was 9. I’d quickly learn he had a deep sense of machismo pride and felt the burdens and pressures of being an undocumented immigrant in this country. He was also an alcoholic who beat me the same way he had my mother long before.
Over the four years I lived with my father, I rejected anything he tried to instill in me, especially the Mexican culture that was so important to him. I refused to say the Spanish words he taught me and refused to eat the food he gave me.
It took years of healing for me to finally identify as Hispanic, thanks to Mexican friends in school accepting me as one of their own, even if I felt I hadn’t earned my place. But strangers, too, continually reminded me of how I looked to the world. White people felt the need to say “gracias” after I held a door open for them, or someone would confuse me for a valet attendant after I parked my own car. This was true when I watched from the back of a police cruiser as a White officer tore my car apart, believing I had drugs after he felt my racing heart.
Like many biracial people, I’ve often felt in search of belonging, of a space to fit in. I enrolled in college classes focusing on Latino literature, reconciled with my father and slowly immersed myself in the food, language and traditions I once rejected. Shortly after this, he was deported to Mexico. I felt a weight like I never had before.
I will always be both White and Hispanic, and learning about being biracial in America will be a lifelong journey. But when I look in the mirror today, I see more of my parents’ traits in me, and it’s through those features that I see a clearer version of myself.