This guest post was written by Randi N. Johnson, who shares why, as a young girl, she conformed to the perception others had of her. And what caused her to break free and reassert her true identity.
I’ve lived my whole life immersed in the cultures of my parents. Through my mother’s heritage, which is deeply rooted in the heart of Mexico (her father traces his lineage back to Spain), to that of my father, a Californian whose great grandmother was a slave in Texas.
When I was young, I spent most of my time with my mother and my Mexican family. I grew up in the Catholic church, had a Quinceañera, listened to Mexican music, and ate and learned how to cook Mexican food. My family always showed me love. They never made me feel different, and I think that kept me from realizing how other Mexicans viewed me.
In school, when I showed people pictures of my mother during show and tell, my classmates did a double take. They were in disbelief that a fair skinned woman gave birth to the little brown girl they saw in front of them. When I spoke Spanish with other Mexicans, I did not get any responses, just dirty looks and eye rolling. I wanted to know why I couldn’t be a Black girl and a Mexican girl at the same time. Instead, I felt like I had to just be one. So I spent all of grade school being Black only. Even though it didn’t genuinely feel like me. Being Black was what was comfortable for everyone else.
It didn’t make sense to people that someone with my complexion could be mixed. There was always a rumor about my hair being fake or that I was lying about my who my mother was. Why aren’t you lighter if you’re really mixed? I was asked. It was as if I couldn’t win.
In an effort to stop the questions and scrutiny, and to end my second-guessing of myself, I stopped talking about who I was. I removed my mother’s pictures from my binder, and allowed myself to be the Black girl everyone wanted me to be.
My moment of clarity came about a year ago when my oldest daughter asked me, Mommy what are we?
What do you mean? I responded.
Are we Black like Paw Paw or are we Mexican like Grandma? she said.
Time stood still. I was nervous and didn’t know what to say or do, or even if I had a good enough answer. I knew I had to say something. So I stated the truth, Lizzy, we are both.
It was a simple answer, but it meant so much more. I needed to tell my daughter that she isn’t confined to one side of her roots. She is both, and she’s in a space where she can be both. I needed to tell her that she is a beautiful Black girl, and also a beautiful Latina. She doesn’t have to cancel out one because of what others see in her. I needed to tell her, for her and for myself.
I’m still on my journey to self-discovery but one thing I’m sure of is that I don’t have to just be a Black woman and I don’t have to just be a Latina. I will not confine myself to a box that is created by the perception of others.
About the author: Randi N. Johnson was born in Dallas to a Mexican mother and a Black father. She currently lives in Denver with her two daughters and husband. You can find her on YouTube and on Randi B.O.M.B.