I woke up this morning in tears. Sobbing. I was dreaming/remembering a conversation I had with my Papi a few years ago when I was visiting home. It all started when I was thinking of one of my past lovers and the moment I knew I wanted to be with him, then this memory comes to me.
You see, I was remembering one of the moments I knew I wanted to be with my past lover was because he got out of the car to help me adjust the seat of his luxury vehicle that I've never been in and didn't know how to maneuver. When we realized the seat would not go back any further I asked him if he wanted me to pull my hair back so he could see better at night to drive me home. He said that wasn't necessary. I wanted to kiss him for saying that and believing it!
As I remembered/dreamed I knew why I had asked him that: my Papi has often commented on me having to pull my hair back when he drives because he can't see past it. The last time I remember him saying this to me I recall telling him that it was hurtful and crying as he drove us to wherever we were going. He hasn't said anything similar to me in almost 2 years. Pero I haven't visited home often, and I know he still thinks it when he looks at me. Instead he now says "are you going to go like that?" or "are you ready?"
When my sister lived with my mother and heard my father ask me this she would tell him and me to stop; to just leave as we were all ready. I would sit in the front so that I wouldn't obstruct any views from behind him. When she drives she never mentions it. She knows how it hurts as her appearance has been scrutinized by our family too. For her, it's her gender identity that remains female, but her gender expression that frustrate(d) them. I still call her a "soft butch" just cause she's my baby sister and has the cutest round cheeks!
I'm the "femme" daughter with the long hair who is into make up and dresses. But even my gender expression isn't good enough for my family. You see I'm literally and figuratively the black sheep of my family. I do not look like anyone in my family. I am the "throw back" as my past lover said once. I am the proof that rape and pillage occurred in our Spanish-nobility filled family tree. The main issues are that although I look like a woman, I can look like a Black woman, or be mistaken for a Black woman or a woman that has some Blackness in her (because I do!).
I've commented on my experience and identity as LatiNegra and also on my discovering my pelo vivo. Yet I haven't written, or rather completed something that shares what I mean, or what I've experienced, or how I came to such decisions about who I am and how I want to identify myself. I see this as a part of that discussion.
My parents racially pass and identify as White. Ethnically they identify as Puerto Rican. I can only guess that prior to being able to fill out my own boxes my parents also identified me as White too. In college I didn't fill out a race box I just checked ethnicity if it was offered. But I always knew I was not like the rest of my family. I knew I could not pass for White. I knew that I was not White in the way it was meant to include and exclude. I knew this. I know this.
There are times when I believe that my parents just didn't know what to do with me. Nobody told them they would have to raise a woman of Color. They did not expect me to grow into what I am today. They were not ready to see a child they both created grow into someone neither of them recognized. I am not the "mini me" people think they will get when they give birth to their children. Do my parents realize that they have raised a woman of Color? Do they take pride in that?
My earliest memory is when I was about 5-6 years old and visiting family in Puerto Rico and being taken to the hair salon. I watched as my curls fell off my head and I left with a "pixie" hair cut. I remember crying because I didn't want to be seen or mistaken for a boy. Today I think there was more to that fear of being considered something other than female. I hated it when people complimented me on losing my curls. My hair looked straight when it really wasn't. My mother tells me that my hair went "back and forth" between straight and curly until one day it just stayed curly.
I used to want to straighten my hair because that is what I saw and because I was never taught how to manage my curls. My mother would help me put my hair in huge curlers so I would have softer rounder curls but still straight hair. I remember her telling me one time that I wanted her help that models wanted hair like mine. This is one of the last times I remember her complimenting me in such a way. It made me feel like I had something important and valuable. I didn't realize how much I had learned to keep straightening my hair to understand what she was saying to me. In her own way I think she was trying to encourage me to stop going through the ritual of straightening my hair.
I say that light skinned girls with long straight hair and green eyes were "in" when I was in high school and this is one of the only reasons I got out of there alive: because I fit that aesthetic of beauty at the time.
I was never told I was pretty, beautiful, a princess, cute, or any other terms people use to describe little girls, or young girls. My body was never affirmed. I grew up being dissected. My parents would, and still do today, sit and look at me and think about what parts of my face and body resemble members of the family. I've been told I have my paternal great grandmother's high cheekbones. That my maternal grandfather has "light eyes" and my mother would remind me that her hair is curly too. Yet our curls are different. I'm built like my father who is 6'3" and have his hands and feet. I have my mother's freckles across my cheeks and nose and on the top of my hands. Unlike my mother whose freckles are out year round and who burns in the sun; my freckles are hard to see and stand out more when I get sunkissed.
The last time I was home this year my parents did this. The three of us seated on my mother's oversized couch while they both looked at me and spoke about me as if I was not present. Or maybe they think having such conversations will affirm that I am apart of the family. I've never questioned my parents were not my parents even though the only other person whom I look the most like in the family (we can almost pass as twins) is a cousin who was adopted. I know my parents are my biological ones. It's just not as obvious as it is with my sister, who when you look at her you instantly see the similarities. I yelled at them to stop dissecting me. They saw I was upset and uncomfortable so started a conversation about another topic with one another.
My mother use to introduce me to friends, coworkers, people in the community. She says it with pride: "This is my daughter Bianca, she lives in New York." I can see the surprise that people have when they see me. Almost 100% of the time their eyebrows raise and they have an expression of "WOW" which they follow up with a hello. I remember the last time my father introduced me to someone, a friend of his who owned a Middle Eastern market, he said "This is my daughter Bianca. Look at her eyes! Look at her eyes!"
My green eyes are the Whitest thing about me.
I hate that. Nobody says "look at her nose" or "look at her cheekbones" and never "look at her hair." When my paternal grandfather died suddenly in 2005 and we all went to Puerto Rico I feared what people would say to me about the way I looked. I had stopped straightening my hair. I was still fat (being fat was always something some of my family members would talk about). But I realized that the attention was not on me this time it was on my sister and her gender expression. Even though I was fat and had big hair and looked "Black," it was still clear I was a woman. It was not so with my sister. I realized we both have struggled with our appearance and acceptance and affirmation in our own ways. I was so hung up on my own stuff that I didn't realize until much later how she was hurt too.
What I think hurts the most right now is not the memories of how my image and the racialized standards of beauty were transmitted to me, but more so how I see them acted out in right this second. When I stay with my mother, she will stand in the doorway of the bathroom as I fix my hair or sit next to me and watch me put on my make up. I dislike that she watches me fix my hair. I've asked her why she does it and she says she wants to see what I do. I feel like an animal at the zoo being watched. I don't so much mind the make up because it was her and my father that taught and encouraged me to use color and play with color. We bond on make up very much. We are both femme.
One of the most painful things has been watching my Papi partner with women (my parents have been separated for over 13 years, have a very good and respectful relationship from what I can tell, and my Papi has had the same girlfriend for over 5 years). He has chosen a partner that is the complete opposite of me physically and visually.
I've read a lot about folks from interracial families and about interracial dating. What I have not read a lot about is when parents partner with people who are visually, aesthetically, and racially the opposite of their children and how we cope with that selection. I know I've taken his selection personally because it is personal. He has found a blond, blue-eyed, petite Puerto Rican woman to partner with and that is something and someone I will never be (nor do I aspire to be). It stings.
It stings in ways that I just can't describe.
It stings because I read his selection as his preference over everything I am. I read his preference as not ever seeing anything of beauty, worth, or desire in me and what I represent. Logically I know his choice in his partner is not directly any conscious decision towards me or our relationship. I know he loves me, is proud of what I've accomplished. I also know he doesn't think I'm beautiful.
It's odd how there are things you wish you told past lovers before you separated. For me I wish I told my past lover that the woman my father partnered with sent me a message about who I am and how he sees me. That his partner selection, who he allows to meet or be around his children, may impact them in ways he may not ever understand. To be mindful of this as his children are still young, younger than I was when my parents separated and he partnered with someone else. That as a father he has so much power in affirming his only daughter's identity and sense of self.
I have the privilege of still having my Papi in my life. Of being raised by him in a way where he never led me to believe that I couldn't do something because I was a girl, or femme, loving art, or liking music, or wanting something non-traditional. I never questioned his character or if he was someone who would/could hurt others because I know he is not. His bark is bigger than his bite. He hugs me when he sees me. He leaves me kisses on my voicemail. He sings me songs on the telephone with his guitar. He still makes me feel safe. I know he loves me. I have to work through this with him one day. It just stings too much right now.