Saw an ugly world too early

Diana Ryan
Millbury, MA

My last name notwithstanding, I am 100% Puerto Rican through and through. That is an ethnicity, not a race but too many people don’t make that distinction. My features are typical in the culture, full lips, broad nose, dark curly hair, olive skin that tans deeply and easily. It’s a blessing and a burden.

I am proud of my heritage and pretty enough to have been a playboy bunny back in the 70’s but that doesn’t stop people from being stupid. Over the years I have been asked if I was “passing” and assumed to be black. I never answer those people. If they’re asking,they’ve already made an assumption and nothing I say will change it so I leave them in their ignorance.

A college boy friend, Italian and darker than me, dumped me when his mother said he couldn’t marry me because we’d have black babies. The first time I heard the words “nigger” and “spic” I was only five and the neighborhood bully had knocked me down and was sitting on my chest pounding me in the face demanding that I admit that was what I was. I didn’t know the words but I somehow understood they were really ugly and I refused. A neighbor rescued me.

The best I’ve ever been called is “exotic” though I have to admit it always felt a bit condescending. My ex-husband once told me he had “married beneath” him. My current in-laws are racists forever making passive aggressive comments about race and/or ethnicity which they excuse by adding, “didn’t mean you”
My 6’2″ blue-eyed, blond husband and I joke that we are both followed in stores – him because they’re trying to sell him something, me because they think I’m going to steal something.

62 years have taught me that racism seems to be in our DNA. though much has changed over the years, much has not. I cannot control someone else’s ignorance but I can control my response to it. When faced with bigotry I confront it as politely as possible, no point in letting my anger bring me down to their level.
In the meantime, I live a life richer for being bi-lingual and bi-cultural. I know who I am ethnically and racially and let the fools make their own ignorant judgements.


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