Evolution of a Quarter-Something
When I was a kid I was proud of my grandma. Proud of how different she was, of her tostadas and her accent and the way she knew two ways to say everything. “Milk, mija? Leche?” she’d ask, and I’d roll the new words around in my mouth, trying out the sounds, the flavor, trying on her accent that was always stronger when she talked to her sisters on the phone. I’d flaunt my new words in show-and-tell, feeling special, like whatever was different about her was something I could share, like it showed.
I was a little older the first time someone scoffed: “You’re not Mexican, you’re white!” I looked down at my arms, pale and lightly freckled, puzzled. I’d never been aware that I couldn’t be both. The older I got the more frequent it became. A joke, something to chuckle at, to exclaim over like a funny contradiction, an anomaly. I stopped sharing the language I was becoming more proficient in by the day. Dropped the accent. Pronounced things awkwardly in Spanish class when I was called on. Like a white girl, because I was one, right? I felt embarrassed, ashamed, like I’d tried to take something that didn’t belong to me, like I’d worn an outfit that didn’t fit right.
Over time it faded, the memory of being proud. Over time my Mexican-ness became an inconsequential detail, a quirk that I rarely revealed. A boyfriend of six months would meet my Grandma and say “but you don’t LOOK Mexican!” and the feeling of fraudulence would return. I’d laugh and shrug, feeling small and strange, feeling like I’d left something behind. I knew it was mine, but I never learned to claim it.
Many years later I had a daughter with a man who is half African American. As I gazed at her dark skin I felt sad. She had something that I would never be able to share with her, I thought, she would live a life that I hadn’t lived. It took me months to realize we were the same, she and I. Quarter-somethings. I’d even stopped identifying with it myself. I’d let them take that much.
From that day on I promised, no more letting other people tell me whether I counted as Mexican. No more letting other people tell me anything about who I was or what I was allowed to identify with. In the great wide world of the internet I found more of us: the half-somethings, the quarter-somethings. The don’t-counts. The not-enoughs. I promised I would teach my little one to claim whatever she wanted from her patchwork legacy, and never to let anyone tell her differently.
To me, this is why we need diversity in our literature, in our stories. I never knew how to claim my heritage because I was the wrong color, I didn’t speak the language, didn’t fit the stereotype. Most of the time I’m still not sure how to do this, but through the stories of others I am learning how every day. I am retracing my steps.
More stories please, more experiences. More weaving of the tapestry that our young ones will look at and say “there I am. I am not alone.
Please consider assisting our efforts to diversify everyone’s bookshelf by checking out the We Need Diverse Books website and seeing how you can help. It’s super easy, just click —> HERE – it’s vital, folks.
Tehlor Kinney is a Portland, Oregon educator, mother, and wife. She spends her days spinning stories and her nights singing lullabies. Among her goals are published author, difference maker, and mother extraordinaire. She strives to reach them every day, shooting past them and falling short in turns. Every day is another chance to make the world better.
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