Assumptions and How Race Isn't Visible

7 years ago

“BLACK PARENTS GIVE BIRTH TO WHITE BABY!” screamed the headline on the Sun. I devoured the tale of Ben and Angela Ihegboro, a Nigerian couple who recently gave birth to a blond baby, despite having no known mix in their racial histories. Doctors at Queen Mary's Hospital in England, where the baby was born, have told the parents the baby is not an albino.

I scoured the Internet for other articles on the subject. This wasn't the usual details binge, because while I am a consummate tabloid consumer, this was more about identity than anything else. You see, my heritage is mixed. I was born in Peru to a mother of mixed Hispanic and European heritage, and a father of Hispanic and Asian heritage.

I have a photo of my parents on my desk. They're both brown-eyed and dark-haired. They're permanently tan, but that's neither here nor there because so am I, even if my tan is occasionally artificial. They're both well-built because my father plays soccer and basketball, and my mother is a volleyball champion –- something I failed to inherit also. My sister is brown-haired and brown-eyed, and she has my mother's family body-type. She's very curvy. The quintessential Latina look. And she also plays sports, so she's strong and well-defined.

In the Russian roulette game of genetics, I came out fair-skinned and haired and green-eyed, and while this coloring is common in my mother's family, my body type is more similar to that of my father's –- tall, svelte, and leggy. Which means, essentially, that I look like I don't entirely belong in either family.

I never really thought about this as a child because by the time I was old enough to consider "being different," we'd moved to an island in the Pacific so diverse in population, that everyone was different. My three closest friends were a blond and blue-eyed Caucasian, a Pacific Islander, and a Cantonese.

It wasn't until I went to Russia at 17 that I experienced what it means to truly be lost in the crowd. I will never forget it. For the first time in my life, I was "one of them." Funny, because beyond my love of Russian literature, a vague understanding of Cyrillic by virtue of studying Koine Greek in high school, and a deep appreciation of vodka, I didn't really know anything about Russian culture. But I was accepted at first glance. No one treated me like a tourist even though my Russian was hardly conversational.

This all reminds me of an incident that unfolded some time ago here in Los Angeles at a fast food restaurant where I happened to stop to get lunch. The women behind the counter were casually speaking to one another in Spanish. I ordered a burger and fries and one of them said to the other -– still in Spanish -– that I really needed it. And the other responded that the "gringa" would probably eat it and then go vomit. The discussion went on from there, all of the employees looking over at me as I stood by smiling and pretending to be oblivious.

Until I got my meal, that is. Then, in my most obnoxious Spanish –- employing "thou" and everything –- I asked for the employees names and requested to speak to a manager. I remained composed, but I was furious. That's the thing about race –- we like to think it's visible and a lot of times, it isn't.

I am Peruvian. It took me a while to get to an emotional place where I could say that, because I am what sociologists call a "third culture kid," someone, who by spending such a significant amount of time among other cultures, has integrated elements of these and their birth culture into a third culture that is distinct from the originals. But it was never a question of what I looked like.

It shouldn't be a question of what you look like –- not when it comes to your country and, certainly, not when it comes to family. As a writer, I can tell you with all authority that it's not about the book's cover, it's about the soul that lives on those pages inside.

Let the birth of Nmachi Ihegboro be a reminder of that to all of us.

AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

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