The constant revolving question in my life is, “What are you?” Let’s take care of this question now. My father is Peruvian and my mother is Irish-Italian. My father left when I was three, so for most of my life I felt like he left me with no culture or language. My brown skin did not appear to be a reflection of my mother. As a child I remember questioning her if she truly was my mother. When with her I felt a need to prove I was hers when others looked on. My mother has fair skin and large blue eyes. I envied her characteristics. She tried to assure me that I was beautiful in my own way.
Growing up with the last name “Jimenez” was challenging. Many teachers mispronounced my name and people expected that I spoke Spanish. Whenever I failed to speak Spanish or not meet other expectations such as being Chinese, Japanese, or Filipino because of my small eyes, I always had a sense that people just weren’t really seeing me. I was a constant reflection an reminder of a father who left his child without a clear understanding of what being Peruvian meant.
As it got older I began to appreciate the wonder and thought how amazing that I get to live in a world of blurred lines. My multicultural background is actually a gift. This acceptance of my identity embraced my mothers side of being third generation San Franciscan. Renewing my sense of self in terms of growing up in Berkeley, CA – a true Bay Area native. I felt recharged on life, but also determined to learn more about my fathers side and Peruvian history/culture.
This year my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Peru with my university. On this field biology class trip, I participated as a staff member among the students and faculty. Hidden away was my secret of this being a long overdue heritage trip. My husband held my hand as I cried on the bus through Lima, Peru. I knew that these were the streets that had taken my father two years again in a fatal car accident.
We saw the capital and then traveled the Amazon River. When stopping back in Lima I took a chance and reached out to my younger half brother I had never spoken to or met. You see, my father had a family before me creating a older half sister who is full Peruvian (speaks Spanish, raised in Petaluma, CA) and a younger half brother who is full Peruvian (speaks Spanish, raised in La Molina, Peru). I left a cryptic voice mail in Spanish for my brother who then quickly called me back. His voice was the sound of my father and he spoke excellent English.
We met that day. I had never been so nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and neither did he. When he walked in at. a height of 6’3” – I couldn’t believe it. We hugged, laughed, and cried. I never thought I would meet him in this life. I thought he would be a distant past like my father. I asked if our father was tall and he laughed and said yes. Turns out my 22 year old brother is a college rugby player in his last year of college stud eying international business. As a college advisor for his age group, it seemed oddly kismet as we launched in conversation. I understood exactly where he was in life and he had a greater understanding of where I was.
My brother is older than his years. Our father left him at three as well. We lived parallel lives constantly asking who we were. It’s much more than race.
He share with me that he learned our father was originally from the Amazon. He also shared that he forgave him. I knew as well in my heart that I agreed with this forgiveness and realized it wasn’t the history or culture that I desperately needed, but family. My brothers love is unreal.
All this time I hogue to was in search of myself, but it was actually the connection to another who would fully understand this internal longing of understanding.
As I stood atop Machu Picchu with my husband, I felt so alive and at peace. I thought of my brother and I wished I could be with him. He too is a reflection of our father. I could see clearly the value of what’s so important in life.
My mother has always been my angel in life. I see her as the strongest woman I know. I see her in my face more and more. It’s hard to believe I had once questioned that. Identify and self development can be difficult for those with an unclear family line. When someone asks, “What are you?” I say be bold and true. The conversations that follow are worth the time and educating others.