In Spanish Harlem, they looked at me and asked: ‘What are you?’


For two months, I waited, some days excited, other days, afraid: What was I? Was I prepared for the answer? What if my intuition was wrong, and I was 100% Caucasian?

When the results came in, I logged on to the website to receive them.

And I cried.

I’m still crying.

My mother’s side was clear, and matched family stories: French Canadian, Scandinavia, Finland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Great Britain are all mixed.

But the other half of me is what’s dominant: I’m 25% Native American, from Southern Texas and Northeastern Mexico, from two tribes.

And the rest is nearly 25% Spanish, with a bit of African and Middle Eastern.

In other words, my father was a Mexican.

I called my mother, told her I had the test done, and asked her for my father’s name.

For thirty minutes, she denied it. She called me a liar. She berated me. How could I do this to her?

She refused to tell me my father’s name, and finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“You’ve pretended I am White for my entire life. I’m not white. You can’t pretend any more.”

My mom, angry, said, “I’m the most colorblind person you know.”

And then, I lost it. “You’ve done to me what White people have done to Native Americans and people of color for hundreds of years. You’ve robbed me of my heritage and my birthright. It’s a genocide of the mind. You can’t do this to me any more. ”

She got really quiet.

But I was furious. I had been robbed of my heritage. My story—my ancestors, my blood—had been stolen.

My mother’s lie had stolen my true identity.

It is a crime, I think: In her selfishness or greed or shame or fear or whatever it was, she attempted to commit a genocide of my mind and my spirit, my birthright and my heritage. And she almost got away with it.

I hung up on her, and called her back when I had cooled off. She answered the phone, and gave me his full name immediately.

It took me about two minutes of creative googling to find him.

For two days, I researched everything I could find on him: Where he was born, who his friends and kids are. Who he is.

Then, I called him at work.

I asked if he knew my mother. Yes, he said. I told him my name, and asked if he is my biological father.

“Yes,” he said. “Valerie, I want you to know your mother never let me see you, but you’ve always been in my heart.”

Suddenly, my entire life made sense: The compulsive way I sought out, and adore, Latin American culture, especially Mexican culture, embracing it and learning its language, food and songs long before I knew it coursed through my veins. But it is the belief systems of my ancestors that have gripped me most of all, that I didn’t know until now were theirs: I was guided to love the land, to listen to animals and the forces of nature, and to the spirit of my ancestors (though I didn’t know it was theirs as I listened). I understand that plants and the natural world are sentient. It is a compulsive truth I dared not confess, but do so here, because it is as much my birthright as my compulsion for making of the sign of the cross. I wasn’t raised in church, but Catholic ritual is, somehow, as intuitive as listening to the birds for knowledge of an impending storm. It was all born of an instinct, a primal need, that I have to respect these things. I never understood it before now.

So I am happy: The genocide wasn’t complete. There is a spirit written in my genes, in my ancestors, that flows naturally, intuitively through me and around me.

Almost immediately, my biological father answered my questions: I’m a mix of indigenous tribes (which is quite common as tribes were pushed off their land and forced to live together), and my great-grandmother moved to Mexico as a child from Spain. She married into an old Spanish family of Northeastern Mexico.

And now, when I tell people I am a quarter Native, that my father is Mexican, people of color simply nod. One of my black girlfriends just smiled and said I’m a child of God. My Mexican friends say they always knew I was part of La Raza.