Greater Boston, MA
If you look at me… I look Latino. Not tall, dark features – hair, eyes, skin, wide nose, full lips. If you ask me, my ancestry is African, Incan, Iberian, and Jewish. Those are the ones I know of. I grew up in New England, attending a catholic school in the ethnic part of town… and yet I was the only dark one in class. Kids are kids – they don’t care. I had friends who liked me because we liked Star Trek. I had kids that hated me because they were taught to hate anyone who isn’t like them. I have always felt like an immigrant, even though my Birth Certificate clearly states that I am a naturally born U.S. citizen. When I was older and shopping with friends on Newbury Street, the security guards would jump when I walked in, following me until I left. They would judge but never ever ask. I would have very happily explained who I was while waving my passport. The shockers came a little later still. First one: I traveled to Mexico, and after being out with my blond and blue-eyed American girlfriend, I was held at the Security Office of the Marriott Hotel I was staying in, because the front desk attendants did not believe that: 1) a “cholo” like myself had such a gorgeous blond blue-eyed woman at my side, 2) I was actually an American staying with her in the hotel, or 3) I actually resided legally in the U.S. She went up to our room, retrieved my passport at 3 a.m. while I sat in an office with the head of security who attempted to interview me in her broken English, told me she had studied in the U.S., and who refused to ask me or respond to any questions i asked her in perfect, accent-free Castilean. They never apologized. Another time, I was with a gorgeous fair-skinned Jewish girlfriend in Adams Morgan in D.C. We stepped into a Central American restaurant and the waitress comes over to us to take our order. She proceeds to do the following: turns her back to my companion, addresses only me in Spanish, and pointing to her so that only the two of us can see asks: “…and what is the gringa having…?” I politely responded in perfect English- “You know what? I think we’re going to go somewhere else.” And we walked out.
Race issues are multi-faceted, and granted, I have not suffered anywhere near the indignancies, harm and/or assault many others have endured. But it strikes me now, as a middle-aged man, that this problem is perplexing because we each carry our own perception of what is “race” and what is appropriate “behavior” when dealing with race. I was insulted in a Latin American country because of being treated like I was “too good to be true” – an American traveling in a resort accompanied by a non-Latino woman. I was equally insulted in DC because I was perceived as “wasting my time and insulting our Latino women by cavorting with an “anglo” or “gringa” instead of being with my own kind. These are common, everyday type of situations. I won’t speak to the second-guessing or dismissive tones I hear from colleagues in my profession because I offer an opinion that I know to be sound and correct… only to see them come back after they’ve forum-shopped my advice to Caucasian-American advisors of the “right ilk” who repeat what I said originally and actually send them back to me for a further and more robust response to their issue. After nearly fifty years in the “liberal northeast” I am not home in either Latin America or in my native New England. I’m sometimes told I look Middle Eastern… maybe I should try my luck in Lebanon.