Hi, Leo

The dialog on race relations continues. Here is my response to Leo’s comments on “Life Is Sure Interesting In America.”

Hi, Leo:

Going back to that first letter of mine when I described myself, I said my appearance was at times either a blessing or a curse, depending on the situation. I am White and easily recognized as White, but it is never that simple in America. I am always very upfront about who and what I am, not because race/ethnicity is foremost in my mind, but because I try to avoid misunderstandings with people for whom it is an issue.

Since Anglos do not consider Hispanics as White, many get angry when they discover I am Hispanic; often I get accused of passing as White. They get angry because, so I have been told, they feel betrayed and fooled into accepting me in the first place. Some Hispanics think I am some kind of Anglo spy in their midst or they resent that I get “special privileges” denied them because of my appearance. Truthfully, I do escape much of the venom spat their way….

…I have found and will always find myself in the “in between,” lost somewhere between not Anglo and therefore, not White …. It really is easier to accept the reality of racial confusion than fighting with people all the time.  Honestly, the fighting is stupid!

In any case, I digress. When I was accepted as a “colored girl,” I had decided not to correct my “classmate” because I saw no reason to embarrass her (that was the noble reason.)  The selfish reason is that I truly enjoy the company of the African American women; they are so much fun. I had no idea that “Gloria’s” reasons for calling me a colored girl might be anything more than an error….Yes, of course, it is true that those women and I have shared similar experiences; I should have recognized that.

Then you gave me one aspect of the question from the perspective of the prison culture and I went into a tailspin. Let me refresh your memory: “a beef jumps off between the White and the Latinos—which side do you ride with?” No one has ever asked me to choose; I was so completely startled that I froze….I dropped the page I was holding. How could I side against the many people I love, who are White? What kind of person am I?

I don’t know if it was your intention to startle me so, but I now feel it was a question I needed to hear and answer. You guessed I would ride with the Latinos. It shocked me that you recognized something about me I did not know about myself till the moment you asked the question; I did not realize I was so transparent. You are right. Yes, I would want to ride with the Latinos, although I am equally sure they would not want me. This is why I have so often chosen to hang back and occupy the fringe of groups; I have always obeyed my rule that I do not go where I am not wanted.

…. I am grateful that the question was an intellectual exercise and that in the here and now, out here, outside of your prison world, choosing is unnecessary.



2 thoughts on “Hi, Leo

  1. Carole,

    I am Marlena’s friend from Tufts and I have struggled with the concept of “who I ride with” as well as “who am I” for a long time. It started in grade school and really has not changed much since. I was always the kid who did not “act” Puerto Rican. I always tried to be the anti stereotype and hated being put in the “box”. I lived in New England, in Hartford, Connecticut, and always found people there tried to understand you by making you fit their “box” of who you are, Woman or Man, Jew or Black or PR, etc. I went to prep school in an affluent community and was from the wrong side of the tracks – literally. The box I was in was very restrictive and very negative so I did everything to mess that up. That “box” had a lot of superficial stereotypes that I tried to mess with but I think in refuting that box I ended up refuting a part of me that was real for a very long time. I think I know why I did this but it is a complicated question for me that has components of family, extended family and friends. The end result being that I completely identify with your not belonging in one group or the other. I am easily identifiable as Latino in my physical appearance but as a result of my early hatred of the box I found little in common with my Latino family and friends from my youth. In fact it’s almost like I hated myself and that became obvious and came across as if I hated my family and friends. That said, even then I would ride with the Latinos. But I eventually had to come to terms with my own self hatred and find peace with my racial identity. I found myself in my twenties in a place where I needed to make changes in my life. I burned out working long hours and burning the candle on both ends for too long. I had to make a change and when I tried to figure out what to do I had to answer the ultimate question of who am I? When you really have to answer that question, you find it impossible if you hate a part of yourself. Fortunately I ended up figuring out that I was something in the middle and that it was OK. I don’t mind being the guy who surprises folks and if they can’t handle it I just keep moving through life without them. I became comfortable in my own skin and in fact enjoy the banter and the educating of others of who I am and what I am. Here is who I am:
    I am a good father and coach
    I am a geek and a romantic
    I am a Man
    I don’t fit in any boxes and love that about myself
    I just am who I am – love it or leave it 😉

  2. Hello, Rene: Thanks for sharing. Yours is a great explanation of what I call the “in between.” Someday we’ll live in a world where what we are is less important than who we are.

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