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

I remember the first time I thought I might not be White.

I was about 8 years old, in my elementary school’s cafeteria. We had been learning about heritage in class that day, and everyone in my Michigan hometown, it seemed, had ancestors who came from Denmark or Holland. They were all blonde-haired and blue-eyed. I remember a classmate turned around and looked at me and said, “What are you?” “I’m a kid,” I answered, confused. “Just like you.”

“No,” was the reply. “I mean, what are you? Are you Italian? Indian?”

I was confused. “I’m an American,” I said, proudly. I knew my mom’s family went back in this country a long time, and had fought in the Revolutionary War. Why would I be Italian?

As I grew older, I became hyper-aware of my dark hair and dark eyes. Everyone in town—and in my family, it seemed—was tall, blonde, and blue- or green-eyed. They all had little ski-jump noses. My nose was big, round, and wide.

But my dad was a tall blonde Dutchman, and my mom always checked “White” or “Caucasian” on my school forms, and—why would I question my parents?—so I grew up White.

Except for the many, many times, White people did not accept me.

It gnawed at me, the question I received more and more the older I got: “What are you?”

By high school, I knew I wanted to go someplace where I didn’t stand out because of my features. Someplace where people looked like me. I chose New York City, where I instinctively knew there were people who looked like me, and where, I thought, no one would ask, “What are you?”

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

Native American population almost back to pre-Columbian levels

nativeamericanpopulationSamuel W. Bennett’s GET DATA website features charts/graphs and infographics about current events, sports, news, culture, and history. We thought this log-scale graph of the native (in red, of course) and white population in the U.S. was fascinating, sad, and maybe, just maybe, encouraging.

His description:

After disease and war decimated the Native American population from an estimated pre-Columbian 5 million to a low of a few hundred thousand in the late 1800s, the American Native American population has recently approached the pre-Columbian population. The…figure shows that the population of American Native Americans from 1492 to present.

His chart that ranks Tolerance, Racism and Xenophobia in the United States shows we’re lots more tolerant than some other countries, but still have big-ass problems with gays, immigrants and “foreign languages,” not that this is news to us.

Mas…Native American population almost back to pre-Columbian levels

Can you spot the Latino in this photograph?

salvadorlitvakI’m pretty sure I was the only redhead at the NYU Latino Law Students Association Gala in the spring of 1990. The food was delicious, my date looked stunning, and I was glad I had jumped on the opportunity when I received the LALSA invitation.

My journey to that moment began 25 years earlier. I was born in Santiago, Chile in 1965: a third generation Chilean on my father’s side (whose people came from Odessa), and first generation on my mother’s side, who arrived when she was 12 from Hungary.

We left Chile in 1970 after the election of socialist president Salvador Allende. For Mom, socialism was close enough to the Soviet regime she’d fled in Hungary.

I started kindergarten at P.S. 81 in the Bronx. With a curly mop of flaming red hair and speaking only Spanish, I immediately embarked on a lifelong career of not fitting in. I learned English fast, but I still felt like an outsider. I got into X-Men comics because I identified with the mutants.

Mas…Can you spot the Latino in this photograph?

True Story: I was a teenaged guera, white like Jesus too

bigblondejesusIn 1969, my mother registered to vote as a member of La Raza Unida, an independent “third party.”

When she came home and shared the news with her father — declaring that she was a “Chicana” — he grew angry.

He told her never to use that word, since “Chicano” was a derogatory term when he was growing up.

Despite my mother’s defiance of the patriarchal family regime that day, she never talked much about the importance of our Mexican heritage or exploring the values of Xicanisma.

Mom did send me to an all-girls Catholic high school, however, and maybe that was an attempt at showing me empowerment for women. The school was in 75% white Glendora, though, so our Jesus statues were white (photo, above), just like our feminism. 

Mas…True Story: I was a teenaged guera, white like Jesus too

Home Team USA: People of Every Creed, Color, Heritage (1952 PSAs)

psastillThree glorious black and white Public Service Announcements remind an “ordinary Joe” not to be “Joe Shmoe.” How? “Don’t be prejudiced.”

“Negroes and whites, Jews and Christians, [women are seen but not heard],” says the cheery announcer. “We are all in this together.” Also we’re all in the circus and on the baseball diamonds, high rise construction sites and neighborhood block parties.

Ground-breaking integrated pre-rock-n-roll boy band, the Benny Goodman Quartet, swing the PSAs to a brilliant climax as silhouetted jitterbugging hep-cats prefigure iPod commercials. We can make beautiful music together if we all play ball! Bake a cake for your colored neighbor. HOME TEAM USA! Tuned up for freedom! Solid!

Do you think Mustache Guy is Latino?

Mas…Home Team USA: People of Every Creed, Color, Heritage (1952 PSAs)

What are America’s Pocho Ocho Top Brownest Jobs?

whitejobsfThe Atlantic analyzed the stats and guess what!? Some professions in the United Estates are positively teeming with white people — jobs like veterinarian, espeech sangwich pathologist and meelrye (chart excerpt, above).

Hurm, we said, perhaps we can fabricate a similar list of America’s brownest jobs.

“So let it be written, so let it be done!” said Pharoah, another white dude. And we did. Here’s our list of America’s Pocho Ocho Top Brownest Jobs:

8. Piñata Fluffer

7. Chief Cleavage Officer for Spanish Language TV Network News Division

6. Tia Guadalupe Gutierrez Santa Maria de Los Angeles y Zacatecas

Mas…What are America’s Pocho Ocho Top Brownest Jobs?