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“What are you?”  Rosetta stared in the mirror of the Sherwood Boarding School bathroom.  I’d always admired how much she looked like the Mona Lisa.  Her hair was brown, her skin perfectly olive, her eyes brown, her lips full and small.  She was a beautiful purebred Italian.
“Italian.”  I replied, looking into my green eyes, wishing they didn’t stand out so much in this lighting.
Rosetta laughed.
“You don’t even have brown eyes like a real Italian!  You’re only half Italian.”  She replied, and looked into the mirror at her beautiful straight dark hair.  “Plus you don’t even know the Italian language.  I know Italian.”
“So what am I then?”
“You’re a mutt, I guess.”
It hit me like a thud to my chest.  But I just nodded and left the bathroom when the bell rang.  Walking down the halls, I passed two Puerto Rican girls speaking Spanish to each other, three blonde girls with broad obnoxious laughs and sparkly blue eyes, and one Chinese boy speaking Mandarin over the phone.
I had Spanish next, and suddenly was extremely disappointed that my school didn’t an offer Italian language course.  I sat down at a table next to my friends Isabel and Eva.  I sat for a second, fiddling on my phone awaiting the teacher, but the question popped out of my mouth before I knew it could. 
“Eva, what are you?” 
Eva looked over at me, fiddling with one of her dreads as she did.
“Huh?”
“Like what’s your cultural background.”
“Um...I’m adopted, and my parents are from Canada...so I guess they’re Canadian and French.”
“Oh.”
“But I guess my birth parents were black so...I’m black.”
“But you’re not Canadian and French too?”
“I dunno.”
Mr. Jimenez ambled into the room, shouting as he did so: “Clase, silenzio, ahora nosotros…”
Eva raised her hand.
Mr. Jimenez looked around the room, stunned that someone already had a question, when usually nobody ever listened enough to even generate questions.  He was a stout man, probably in his early fifties, very Latino looking, yet with blue eyes.
“Si?”  He gestured toward Eva.
“If I was adopted from Africa,” Eva began, “but my parents are Canadian, does that make me African or Canadian?” 
Eva sat back and waited for the teacher’s answer, with a smug smile as she did.  She always enjoyed diverting the teacher’s attention from the actual lesson itself.
Mr. Jimenez nodded toward Isabel. 
“Isabel what’s your culture?”
Isabel jerked up from her daze, surprised, her big brown eyes drawn wide open.  Her thick lips pouted as she thought about the perfect answer, but only came up with:  “Puerto Rican, I guess.”
Mr. Jiminez raised his eyebrows.  “Now, are you first generation, second…?”
“My grandparents came here.”
“Ah.  And you don’t  speak Spanish with your parents.”
“No sir, I wouldn’t only be in Spanish one.”
“Do you do anything with with your parents?  Eat Puerto Rican dishes, have Puerto Rican rituals…?”  (Mr. Jimenez had a habit of ending his sentences in the middle of a list.)
“Does eating Taco Bell count?  I mean I know it’s Mexican but-”
Mr. Jiminez laughed.  “No, it doesn’t.”
Isabel blushed a little, but made a small smile and looked away from him.  He just paced the room, back and forth, assessing the class’s faces. 
“Gianna.” 
I looked up from the drawing of the Taco Bell logo I was doodling. 
“Yes?”
“Are both your parents Italian?”
“No.  Just my dad.”
“What’s your mom?”
“British.”
“Do you do any, I dunno, British traditions at your house?”
“I don’t know of any,” I giggled a little, “I guess not...we don’t exactly go for afternoon tea.”
He nodded.  “What about Italian traditions?”
“Yeah, we eat spaghetti with my grandma sometimes, and have cappelletti with my her and my cousins every Christmas.”
“I see you also uphold the tradition of having close family ties.”
“Well, we do the best we can, it’s a big family.  We don’t speak Italian though.”
“I see.”  He looked toward the boy from France sitting across the table from me.  The boy hardly said a word in class, and always seemed to think he was too good to talk to us girls.
“What about you, Peter?”
The boy lifted his red tuft of hair from his desk. 
“Um...I’m French.”
“I know you’re from France.  What else are you?”
“I dunno.”
Mr. Jimenez sat on the table, receiving some weird glances from the rest of the class.  He ignored them.
“Why did you come to America?”
“My parents made me...they said America has good business.”
“But you’re not American, you’re just French?”
“Yes.”
Mr. Jimenez paced some more, staring at the tiled floor, feet moving one after the other in an even line.
“Why aren’t you American?”
“What?”
Mr. Jimenez shrugged.  “Why aren’t you American?”
“This isn’t my home.” 
“No?  We’re a fine school, you’re all settled in your room, I’ve seen your walking around with your friends, so why isn’t your home?”
Sam hesitated.  “I’m going back home in a few years...”
“Do you want to go to college here?  Maybe even a business school after that?”
“Yes…”
“So that’s four years of high school, four years of college, and let’s say two years of business school.  That’s ten years in America.  You’ll be able to apply for a citizenship by then also.  Why aren’t you American?”
“I don’t know.”
“So what are you?”
“American?”
“Ah...but you still are part of your French traditions, speak the language, have family in France, etcetera.”
“I guess I’m French-American.”
“Exactly.  Now Eva, you were adopted from what country?”
“Kenya.”
“But do you speak their native language?”
“I don’t even know what their native language is…”
“It’s either English or Swahili, but pretend it’s Swahili for a moment.  Do you speak it?”
“No.”
“Are you in contact with your birth parents?  Do you have any Kenyan traditions?”
“No.”
“What about Canadian traditions?”
“I speak French.”
“So you are French-Canadian-American?”
Eva slowly started giggling, until it got louder and louder until it was a full out laugh and tears were pouring out of her eyes.
“What’s so funny?”  Mr. Jimenez asked.
“I don’t look French-Canadian or American!”
“It isn’t about that.  It’s about what you feel you are.  I could go to India right now and learn their culture, their language and spend time with their people.  When people ask me if what my culture is then, I’ll say, I’m Indian-Chilean-American.  They might laugh, but I would know that it’s true.  As for not looking American, what do Americans look like to you?  Picture an American in your head.  Is it a white person with blond hair and blue eyes?  Maybe some freckles or even a light brunette?  No.  In my mind if I picture an American, I picture an immigrant.  Everybody here has a family history of immigration.  Whether it be from England France, Canada, Puerto Rico or Italy.  But that doesn’t mean that is what our culture is today.  We are what we practice.  Or we lose our culture.  Some of us, like Isabel have lost our old culture and picked up the American culture of eating Taco Bell.  That’s neither a bad thing or a good thing.  It’s change.  It’s how the world works.  Some of us are just American, whether we are black, latino, white, Native American, or whatever else.  Some of us are a mix of American, French, Canadian, Latino, Italian, and so on.  But all of us practice the American culture every day just by living here.  So we all are at the very least Americans.  It’s up to us.  It’s our choice between whether we choose to adapt to what goes on around us or to hold on to the past our ancestors brought to us.  It is each of you’s own individual choice that you will have to make when you leave your family.”
The bell rang.  Mr. Jimenez wished us well, and told us to choose wisely.  I chose, met with Rosetta, and told her that we weren’t friends anymore.  I didn’t need her.  Besides, I had Isabel and Eva.  I had my own purebred culture.




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