Speak Spanish? You don’t look “Mexican.”

Kristiane Valenza, Vicksburg, MS. After moving to rural Mississippi from New York to teach Spanish at the high school level, I’m frequently met with confusion as to how I have an “ethnic” name and can teach Spanish, but I have fair skin and European features. When people ask me, “Are you from Vicksburg?” they really […]

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Coding as white isn’t the same.

Kristina Ogilvie, Arlington, VA. It just struck me, I guess: on paper (i.e. a resume) I am for all intents and purposes a white girl. My name couldn’t be less ethnic, and I’ve had the privilege of getting an amazing education and having experiences that my father (Afro-Panamanian) could only have dreamed of. But I […]

What are you? The ubiquitous question.

Laura Mariko Cheifetz Atlanta, GA I call myself hapa yonsei. I’m biracial white Jewish and Japanese American, fourth generation on both sides. However, there are two assumptions that I run into all the time. First, “what are you?” People want to know my ethnic background (not racial… that doesn’t satisfy their intrusive curiosity), but they […]

Dichotomy matters AND full color spectrum.

Kaniela Kelekolio, Captain Cook, HI. The legacy of slavery and, for much of history, the demographics of the USA have led to ‘white vs black’ being the central racial discussion. But as America grows more diverse and East and South Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic communities and white and black ethnic subgroups flourish, they challenge a […]

White. Wish I had a culture.

Jan Spooner, Tucson, AZ. As a white American, I don’t have a strong feeling of culture. My African American, Jewish, Native American and Hispanic friends can all talk about a strong cultural background. Their stories reflect their heritage and what it means to belong to their ethnic group. What is my culture and what are […]

My wife calls me ethnically flexible.

Paul Kuck, Portland, OR. I could talk about this all day. Race, ethnicity, and ancestry fascinate me. The question of who I am has been with me since I can remember. When I was little, we lived near the reservation in South Dakota, and everyone thought I was Native. My sister who is pale, blue […]

She wishes for American eyes.

Rose McKenney Lakewood, WA I’m glad we’re finally acknowledging the number of multi-ethnic people in the US. Sadly people my age (50s) have been asked to choose one; yet I know several multi-ethnic people around my age. They lost a lot because they or their parents felt the need to choose one tradition or ethnicity.


Is all that your real hair?

Alexis Beauford Normal, IL 2 years ago I decided to go natural. A lot of non-ethnic people don’t know what that means. When an African American woman gets a perm, it’s to make her hair straight and more manageable which is the opposite of when some other ethnicities get a perm. When someone decides to […]

“We don’t do ethnic hair here”

Sahra Hassan Minneapolis, MN This was said to me by a hair stylist the minute I walked into a salon. Ironically, my hair was cover so she couldn’t tell what my hair type was but she assumed this based on my skin color. Unconscious actions like these can lead to structural racism in our society.

Your baby: he looks so ethnic.

Jane Smith Hanford, CA Wheeling my infant son in his stroller through the local farmer’s market one Summer morning 23 years ago, this is the most puzzling comment I received as a woman leaned over his stroller. I only saw both sides of his wonderful heritage reflected in his features.

Half Jewish. Half WASP. All tribal.

Andrea Jill Berman Rochester, NY Grew up working class Jewish in buffalo NY. a very ethnic city. No melting pot there. people kept their ethnic identities. I was always welcome in my friends homes. my brother’s best friend in the 1970s was black. Very unusual. my parents did anti defamation and voting rights activism, so […]

Ambiguous ethnic origin depending on place

Melissa Bowie, MD It wasn’t until I moved to the DMV (the Washington DC metro area, for the uninitiated), that I began to chafe under assumed ethnic identities. I have great examples: waiting for the metro and a metro employee sings the “Mexican Hat Dance” behind me; taking my (blonde) kids to the park and […]