I was asked my first ignorant question about the matter in a diner, with my four-year-old son sitting beside me.
“What is he?”
“I’m not sure I understand your question,” I said.
“Is he mixed?”
“Mixed what?” I asked.
“A mixed breed,” she said.
“Do you mean like a dog?” I said, unbelieving.
She was trying to ask about my son’s heritage. And raising my temperature with every word.
My sons are Hispanic. Cuban, Colombian and Spaniard, along with all of the European bits on my side.
My eldest tans in seconds. Has dark hair and eyes, but pales in the winter. My youngest has light eyes and inherited my family’s pasty white palor, unfortunately. They’re both gorgeous, in my eyes. And my flesh and blood. So forgive me if I get a bit mother bearish about boorish questions.
No breed about it.
This waitress is the only person I’ve ever encountered who has asked the question in such an ignorant way. But it has stuck with me over the past decade.
My sons go to a school that is ethnically diverse but are among only a few children of Hispanic origin there.
Many of their classmates have assumed they are Mexican because in America, that’s our stereotype. Or seems to be. A few wise parents have asked about their heritage in a much more enlightened way than our waitress. I treasure those few. Curiosity is fine. A lack of manners is not.
The others? Well, if you’re Hispanic, you’re generally assumed Mexican. And everyone wants to serve you tacos when you head over for dinner.
Because of course, all Hispanics are taco eaters, right?
Sure. And landscapers, bus boys, and dish washers.
How do I become righteous about this when my own dear mother asked me if she should serve tacos for my boyfriend the first time she met him? And had visions of a low-riding Chevy with spinning rims pulling up in the driveway?
She wasn’t an awful person. Just one that was perhaps more sheltered, despite her education, than she thought.
Having grandchildren with Spanish names helped, you can be sure. She fought me there, asking what was wrong with “nice” names like Peter and Paul. But she called my children by their God-given names and loved them fiercely.
This train of thought spurs from a spate of recent forms I’ve had to complete. Many allow you to choose Hispanic or non-Hispanic. There is no real option for kids like mine. They are Hispanic, yes. But also not. Don’t forget my heritage, guys. They’ve got both.
And I wonder—will checking Hispanic help or hurt them in this situation? Will they be viewed differently if I check that box?
In some circles, yes. I know this for a fact.
I’ve never liked boxes or rude questions.
Which brings me to the governor of Indiana.
I rarely write about politics but this issue transcends politics. It gets to the stuff we’re made of; the hard choices.
In case you have not heard (international readers), the governor of Indiana has come under fire for his state passing an act that prohibits any laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.
Although the legal language does not specifically mention gays and lesbians, critics say the law is designed to protect businesses and individuals who do not want to serve the gay and lesbian community. Think caterers or wedding planners who might be hired for a same-sex wedding.
The good news? People are taking action in a way that might not have happened even a decade ago. Several governors have banned non-essential travel for state employees to Indiana. Prominent figures have called for the Indiana games scheduled during the NCAA tournament to be moved to a different state. Some very straight, very powerful people are standing up for a group to which they do not belong.
Encouraging. Very much so. But the passage of the law indicates we still have plenty of people who think highlighting our differences is the way to go. Divide and conquer has never really gotten us anywhere, has it?
And if someone like my mother can have biases that are not challenged until she is in her seventh decade, biases she was not even aware of until a loved one fell in love with someone “different”, then anyone can.
Those biases exist and I do believe will be worn down, over time, as more of us have a gay family member, friend, child. Or a Hispanic one. Or one of any other color.
But to institutionalize our biases, our prejudice, in the meantime?
That is just plain ignorance.
I guess I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdog.
Regardless of breed.
And disdain for those who lack good breeding.
There is a difference.