Today on the blog I am welcoming Jen Curry from MiXD. She’s sharing her story about being culture & race.
“Maybe if your name was Jen Martinez…”
Spoiler alert: I’m half Puerto Rican and my name is NOT Jen Martinez. I don’t have a Spanish last name, thanks to an adventurous Italian who migrated to the Island of Enchantment many generations ago. My “other half” is Ashkenazi Jewish. So, I have very curly hair (3C represent!) but lighter skin.
I look racially ambiguous, and while I get it – it’s human nature to want to categorize others – I’ve always fought an uphill battle to be recognized for who I am and not have assumptions made based on my looks.
I’m fully aware of the privilege that comes with “passing,” or appearing to be part of the dominant race/culture.
Period, full stop. And yet, there have been many (many!) times when I’ve been left frustrated, or downright astounded, at how hard it is to convince people of my Latina roots. One such occasion – January 10, 2018 – really stuck with me.
I was passed over for a job designing programs for urban youth in a large U.S. city because the community wanted to hire a Black or Hispanic person (I’m a non-profit/social enterprise strategist by day, with more than a decade of experience in youth development and had run programs in this city before). And, I completely understood why race was important to the community. The problem was, they knew I was Puerto Rican but chose not to hire me. Why?
Because my racial and ethnic background wasn’t immediately obvious from looking at me or reading my name. If my name was Jen Martinez, they said, there would have been no question about hiring me because I was the most qualified person for the work.
Their perception didn’t match my identity, and I lost a job – one that I would have been damn good at, too.
Again, I know hiring discrimination happens all the time and that my appearance has (likely) spared me from experiencing it directly, and I’m grateful for this. I certainly don’t think my problems are worse than those that others have faced. But in that moment, I couldn’t believe what had happened to me. I was left wondering. Wondering what you have to do to prove to the world who you know you are inside. Wondering how you have to present yourself to showcase your lived experience, not to mention that of your family and your ancestors.
It made me think about my daughter, who is half of me and half of my husband – Irish and German – with her fair skin and blue eyes.
What will she have to do to prove to others that she eats arroz con gandules on Thanksgiving, speaks Spanish words with her Papa, and was told stories about what Jews had to overcome during Hanukkah?
I want the world to be a more understanding place for multi-racial, -ethnic, -religious, and -national people and families. There are at least 30 million Americans fitting those descriptions, and I’m convinced there are millions more who figure society won’t understand them so they don’t bother checking multiple boxes on surveys.
Back to January 10th, after I collected myself, I created MiXD – an online magazine and community for US. Our mission is to foster a community for people from mixed families to learn and connect, and to give this community a voice in mainstream culture.”