Mixed-race is the only word that can encapsulate the entirety of my broad ethnic heritage. My father is Ecuadorian, my mother is British and they have raised my two siblings and me in both traditions, though we live in the diverse and culturally rich city of Philadelphia, PA. These three cultures — Ecuador, England and the United States — together make up who I am, and I feel fortunate to be a part of all of them.
Though I maintain this strong connection to my identity, it often feels as though others deny my complex and unique heritage by attempting to fit me into a box. People see my fair skin, hazel eyes and brown hair and automatically assume I am white – only white. For me, the worst part is that I am perceived as “less” Latina. I have been told, “I don’t think of you as Hispanic at all!” as if it were a compliment.
We see over and over again that our society loves to arrange people into discrete entities – easily processed according to stereotypes and statistics. Our culture can accept gender and sexuality as fluid but not race. We constantly have discussions emphasizing that appearance is only one tiny factor of an individual’s identity, but discussions pertaining to and recognition of mixed-race individuals on campus often feel nonexistent. As convenient as it would be to be able to understand everything about someone at a glance, it is rarely so, particularly with regards to racial, cultural and ethnic heritage.
I am sick of the shock on people’s faces when they hear me speaking Spanish. I am sick of filling in the ambiguous “Other” bubble on standardized tests that fails to encompass the broadness of where I come from. I am sick of being expected to choose between the three cultures that each determine a part of who I am. I am sick of being regarded as “not Hispanic enough,” “not British enough” or “not white enough” to fit into where I know I should be able to. I am sick of the look on people’s faces that indicates they do not want to take the time to understand who I really am.
At a school like Andover that has the means to facilitate informed discussion through forums, panels and All-School Meetings, the lack of awareness of multicultural heritage is disappointing. During Mixed-Heritage Awareness Week, MOSAIC, a campus mixed-heritage affinity group, hosted a discussion in the Underwood Room, which was an effective first step in initiating the conversation.
Students, nonetheless, should be doing more to address these complex issues than merely participating in a single organized discussion. The topic of racial and cultural identity opens a window to the larger idea of what it means to be who we are. At a school that serves to prepare its students for life in the greater world, learning about and discussing identity in all its forms is absolutely essential.
Sara Luzuriaga is a two-year Upper from Havertown, PA., and an Arts Associate for The Phillipian.