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


White friends, though, they look at me, and change the subject. Or say, “but you’re still white.” Another started referring to me as a “spic” until I, shocked and speechless at first but then in no uncertain terms, corrected him.

That racism, I realized, has colored my entire life. I understand the man who raised me now. He was and still is my dad, but he’s known since my birth that I wasn’t his biological child. And now I understand why, when he divorced my mother to marry another woman—a racist Republican—I wasn’t invited to their wedding, or into their home. I understand now why he continues to tolerate her terrible treatment of me—and why he virtually cut me out of his life when he married her. She knew he wasn’t my biological father.

But I didn’t know.

Her hatred of me, and my father’s subsequent abandonment, have reverberated in my life in ways I never understood—but are now crystal clear: Her racism and my parents’ shame are two of the biggest influencers of my life.

I vacillate now, between anger and hate, and peace and joy; Between love and compassion—imagine carrying a lie like that, a shame, for decades!—and anger and hatred of my family’s crime.

And I am furious at the crime of the genocide my people experienced. It boils in me. I am a quarter native, but I have no language, no culture, no ritual. It was stolen from me even before I was born. There is no museum for me to go to, no memory left of who they were or what their lives were like. It is my dominant genetic make-up, and I am left with nothing but my intuition and a few stories from my biological father, and what has been scraped together online, much of it from the pathetic records of the Spanish who wrote of their encounters with my tribes: That they were feces eaters who had no culture.

Imagine having your culture erased, eliminated, and degraded so completely.

Eleven thousand years of history, gone.

I know forgiveness is sweeter than the bitterness of my tears, but it isn’t easy.

All I know now is that I am so thankful, so blessed, to understand where I come from and why I am who I am. My biological father is alive, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to get to know him and his family. My family.

And I am so thankful that my ancestors guided me to know my heritage, even before I knew it was my own.


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  • Reprinted with permission from Valerie’s blog. Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved.