aMErican Me This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 21, 2012
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I have always known who I am. I am Imani Martinez, and my name appropriately fits both my halves. Martinez is a Mexican surname. Imani is the seventh candle of Kwanzaa and means “faith.” I am proud to be “Blaxican” and have never wanted to be any other race, unless it was Vulcan.

For whatever reason, people have an easier time accepting me as Mexican than as black. Maybe it's because light-skinned Mexicans are fairly common. Whatever the reason, people never believe I'm black. They think I'm joking.

When I met my high school's new dean, a black man, I introduced myself as Imani. He looked at me for a second and then said with an all-knowing smile, “No really, what's your name?” Even if I was white, why couldn't I have a common black name?

When I was young, many adults questioned my parentage. My old church was predominantly Mexican. After the sermon, a guest speaker approached me and asked who my mom was. I pointed at my obviously black mother. He couldn't believe it. I replied that she was indeed my mother. The pastor arrogantly said that I was obviously adopted. I just stared at him, then walked away.

When you're little, it is hard when others don't believe you when you tell them who you are. It makes you feel like an outsider. When I told the kids at my elementary school that I was half black, they refused to believe me. In fact, they said I was lying. Obviously I was white. Just look at my skin! My hair! My dialect! When they finally accepted my ethnicity, they assumed my parents were either in the military or I was a transfer student. How else could a black-Mexican family afford this neighborhood? I just didn't fit into their preconceived ­notions of black.

As much as I pretend not to care what people think, I do. I want people to know I am black, but not to stereotype me. In middle school, I was frequently asked, “If you're black, why don't you act like it?” At first I didn't understand what that meant, but my mom explained. She said they wanted to know why I used proper English. Why I was well-mannered. Why I was not “ghetto.” Why I took honors classes. Why I didn't act like a thug. And it's not just the kids who have these prejudices. My mom has attended honors meetings for me where, upon arrival, the people running the meetings asked if she was lost and needed help finding the correct building.

It has become my goal to break through these stereotypes. Yet even though I resist the “black” stereotype, I have also played into it. In order to try to convince people I was actually black, I would sometimes “act the part.” I'd make jokes about being from the projects, stabbing people with shanks, drug dealing, and other negative stereotypes. I just wanted to be accepted as black.

In retrospect, “acting black” did nothing for me. Even my close friends didn't consider me black. They would say nonchalantly, “You know, Imani, black people really scare me. But not you. You're so white, it doesn't even matter.” They would tell me how their parents forbade them from dating black guys, or how they were terrified to visit Los Angeles.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, I developed my closest relationships with black girls. I hoped that if I surrounded myself with other black people, I would be accepted as black. I assumed that at least the black girls would accept me as black, since they understood how it felt to be a minority defined by skin color.

They did not.

Through these friends, I learned about the millions of unspoken rules among black girls. It was an absolute taboo to discuss hair, real or fake. Skin color mattered. The lighter the better; the darker, the uglier. You only dated black guys. Besides, it was assumed that white guys didn't want black girls anyway. You had to be loud, opinionated, stylish, cool, and hip. You had to have the latest technology, no matter the cost.

I had only one real black friend, and to this day she is still my best friend. The other girls had problems with my hair and skin color. They said I was not really black, that I was too white.

I have slowly given up my dream of having people accept me as black. I don't have to prove myself to anyone. If I'm accepted, great; if not, oh well.

Personally, I do not see race. Too me, black is white is Asian is Mexican. Now, when I meet new people and they ask what I am, I simply reply, “American.” America is supposed to be a place for ethnicities to mix and form new cultures. Black people in France refer to themselves simply as French, so why isn't that the case in America? Race shouldn't matter. Yet it does.

Despite others' perceptions, I know exactly who I am. I am thoughtful, liberal, smart, and a Christian. I have virtues and faults. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. My family loves and accepts me. The majority of the world does not.

One of my goals in life is to avoid judging others based on what I perceive as their ethnicity, religion, or sexual preference. I do not like feeling unaccepted, so why would I make others feel that way? So I will rephrase my first statement: yes, I am half black and half Mexican, but I am one hundred percent “me.” I define myself as aMErican.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Imaginedangerous This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm
This is a very interesting article, and one that I think more of society needs to read. Good job.   I do have one question, though. If you don't like black culture or how blacks are treated, why did you try so hard to convince everyone that you are black?   (I'm not trying to be racist or mean. I'm just really curious and the article didn't explain.)
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