“What are you?” someone asks, referring to my cultural heritage. I take a deep breath.
“African American, German, Cherokee, Osage, Chickasaw, Blackfoot and Creole,” I answer. And it’s true.
My mother’s grandfather was Creole from New Orleans; my mother’s grandmother was German. My father’s grandmother was Cherokee; my father’s grandfather was a black sharecropper whose father lived in slavery. My grandmother looks Italian, my uncle looks Filipino, my grandfather looks African American, and I just look very mixed up. The question of my ethnicity is often asked, especially when people see my older sister, who looks slightly Indian and my youngest sister, whose ringlets of black hair fall to her waist.
Sometimes I simply answer, “I’m everything,” but then I feel compelled to add that, to the best of my knowledge, I can’t claim any Asian heritage.
“Wow,” people say as I rattle off the list of my ancestors, a veritable roll call of races in my blood. “It must be really interesting to have so many different parts to your heritage.”
For the most part I agree, thinking of the Southern food and customs at my father’s family events, and the intellectual discussions at events that include my mothers’ family. But having so many ethnicities in one family is sometimes like owning one fragment of each of many ethnicity membership cards. Often it seems like I’m torn among heritages, whether between my mother’s family or my father’s or my father’s mother’s family or my mother’s father’s.
As many biracial authors, playwrights, poets and songwriters can attest, there is always a measure of pain that accompanies mixed heritages. In this case I am a social butterfly, fluttering uncertainly between many groups who all seem to have a claim on me.
In my search for soul and blood, I have found that who I am lies not so much in choosing one particular heritage and adhering to it. Who I am is an anthology of stories and values and traditions from all my ancestries. I have found that I am a descendent of the human race, a young woman who loves the collard greens and grits of her father’s family just as much as the ballet and intellectual novels of her mother’s family, with a bit of New Orleans jazz and Southern gospel thrown in. The perfect mixture of all that my ancestors stood for, fought for, died for, wrote for, sung for and lived for - that is what I am, and what I hope to perpetuate for generations to come.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.