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 looked askance at the waitress who had posed the question to me, wondering where this exchange was headed.
“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.
And to her credit, if she served tacos, it was because it was a kid-friendly meal. She learned to try picadillo, plantains and empanadas. The lightbulb went on. Tacos be damned.
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.
30 Comments Add yours
Living near Toronto – a word of difference – it is difficult to remain cocooned from the variety of people around us. There is something about us humans that seeks variety when we are younger, but craves the comfort of sameness as we age.
Fine, I suppose, as long as this doesn’t become a safe harbour for biases too. But who am I kidding? I suspect each of us has to regularly monitor our reactions – even when we think we are accepting, some differences are hard to handle and reveal that we are not as righteous as we’d like to be.
It’s humbling, isn’t it, Cynthia? I get it.
A…mixed breed… that is so offensive
Reblogged this on thebluntberry and commented:
love this! people should read this ! #berryblunt
It sounds like your waitress just didn’t have the right words to use because of her lack of education. Hopefully even though her question sounded very rude her intent wasn’t so, and you were able to help her understand the right words to respectfully ask (although frankly I think it’s rude to even ask that at all of someone you don’t know and have a relationship with!)
I can relate to the fact that people’s ignorance runs deep and it doesn’t always come from outside your own ethic group as I have experienced when I married a Dominican man.My parents are Cuban.
I remember one time while visiting a friend in Texas and about two days into the trip her husband commented that I was not like any Mexican he had met before. In his mind all Hispanics were Mexican.
I’ve lived this with my Hispanic (Pulitzer winning, NYT employed) husband — mistaken for a groundsworker by someone in my co-op apt. bldg when he saw Jose wearing a barn jacket. FFS. FFS.
It makes my Canadian blood boil that Americans — yammering on about the melting pot — are so rude and ignorant about who we are and where we come from. When I started dating Jose I was asked (puhleeze) if he takes me salsa dancing. He also got the taco comment from a family friend. I would have punched her.
The man wears khakis, shops at Brooks Brothers and has flown on Air Force One in eight years in the White House Press Corps. Nope, not the effing janitor. People are morons, blinded by prejudice.
I hear you. The subtle biases are trickier than outright ignorance, I think.
Just plain ignorance – absolutely. My husband is black and I’m white, and our two sons often get a head tilt from those who can’t quite figure them out on first glance. But we now live in a city that isn’t so head tilt-ish, and most of the time I think that’s a good thing. Most of the time.
That must be frustrating! No need for head tilting, staring or any of the rest of it. Someday . . .
Great post and very well said. Unfortunately ignorance and lack of common sense has taken over our society. But now we’re talking politics and no politician votes his mind. Instead he signs bills or supports causes that satisfy the special interest groups tha will get him elected. Because that’s all that really matters to them…..votes and greed.
Yes, that waitress was shockingly ignorant and rude. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to stay civil. The bad news with Indiana and is they’re trying to pass this dumb-ass law. The good news is people are standing up to fight it, something you would not have seen decades previous. Maybe amidst all this backward-thinking, there’s some progress being made also. Let’s hope.
If there is anything I hate more than ignorant people it’s got to be putting people in boxes.
Well said! I am not mixed but i get the question “where are you REALLY from” a lot.. When i tell people where i live i get the look of “but you’re not White so you can’t possibly be from there” kinda look. I get that most times people are just interested in knowing someone’s heritage but more often than not you know that the enquirer has prejudiced ulterior motives for asking.
I like the idea of recognizing both sides of ones heritage. It’s important to not dismiss any part as if it were inferior or absent.
I’m right with you…. My children are adopted and I too have seen and heard the amazing ignorant biases….. “Oh I’m so sorry you couldn’t have children of your own” Huh? Excuse me – just because I didn’t push them physically out of my body doesn’t mean I don’t have children of my own…. or here is another one that smacks me in the face “OH – adopted how lovely! How much did they cost?” WHAT? My retort to that is…. “Like yours, my children are priceless, but their care and travel home was where the cost is.” Or when at the post office, one “gentleman” would close his window so he didn’t have to serve me when “those children” were with me…. Perhaps a left over from being a Vietman vet? dunno. I’m just so sick of people just not thinking before they speak or before they act….. its about educating the masses – it takes a village…. and I’m not afraid to politely yet pointedly call our their ignorance.
I think the many comments I’ve received from people publicly and privately point to the fact that no matter what “group” we’re talking about, there is still much room for us just seeing each other as people. Rather than as people with tags attached. I hear you!
Well written…Now, I’m worried about age since I just turned 41. Many potential employees ask you to check a bok if you are between the ages of 18-40. Now that I’m in my 40s, will the call backs not happen as much?!?! I sure hope not….
opps…employers, i meant
The magic age I’ve seen that happen at is 50 (and no, I’m not there yet–but I’ve seen it with acquaintances). Crazy, eh? We take the people with the most experience, many of whom have stayed relevant, and relegate them to the sidelines . . .
It is sad…the smartest people I know are over 50…
Ugh! No more box-checking, please! We are all human beings, perfect in each diverse iteration, each one of us. Off with the shackles of judging another person according to color, race, persuasion!
A powerful, necessary post. I love these parting words:
“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.”
I’m right with you, my friend. xo
Timely and thought provoking- really, what box do you check? And why do we have to check any boxes? Loved it.
Thank you, Jill! If we could just get rid of those boxes. . .
A mixed breed??? Ugghh… Hold my nose ring, I’m ready to fight! Seriously though, you handled the situation well and I suspect it won’t be the last time your son hears that level of ignorance. Sad to say. We teach our children better, so they’ll be better and pass it on. That’s the most important thing, and went we meet ignorance face to face, we just have to call it out — every time.
You’re so very right on calling it out. It’s harder for it to survive in the light of day.
I’m sorry your family had to deal with such rude people. I’m also sorry that everyone who lives in Indiana has to deal with such ignorant lawmakers.
Awesome post on many levels.
Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.