When I was in high school I dated a girl name Jeanie Garcia. She claimed to be French. We all thought it was a bit strange. I wasn't sure I knew any French people, but I did know a few Hispanic people. Jeanie had a dark complexion, and she did seem to speak a bit more rapidly when she was excited. And it was rumored that her student ID said "Juanita." But whenever it came up, she would immediately claim her French heritage and change the subject. Since she had given me my first wet and sloppy kiss, I had every reason to believe her.
I visited her house once. An older and similarly complected woman answered the door. "¡Hola!" she said. I did not detect a French accent.
Jeanie hurried me to her bedroom. "Oh, that's my maid," she explained, then planted a wet, sloppy one on me. I knew she was lying, but I didn't really care. She could pretend to be French. After all, I was pretending she was my friend Rick.
When I was very young I had a discussion with my parents about my heritage. It began when I asked why my grandmothers were so dark. This was my first time experiencing an awkward silence. Once my parents regained their composure, it was revealed to me that my mother's mother was Portuguese and my father's mother was Spanish.
"Oh, like Aunt Virginia?" I asked, referring to my father's brother's wife.
"No, your Aunt Virginia is Mexican," my father replied.
"Isn't that the same as Spanish?" This was my second time experiencing an awkward silence.
"Let's not mention this to Grandma" was the end of this conversation.
Though I seem to have fair amount of Spanish and Portuguese in me, it isn't even remotely apparent. I can get away with a low SPF on the beach, but I do tend to start clapping on the off beat. Basically, I'm white. It's the only box I can check on the form in good conscience.
Growing up I had no reason to think anyone would ever be ashamed of their true heritage -- that is, until the recent proliferation of reasons provided by the current trend in reality shows. With the denizens of trailers parks and swamps being paraded across the screen, and game hunting and pawn shops becoming spectator sports, my shame is in prime time. Often, it's simply embarrassing to be white. And secretly, I've always been a little envious of those who could claim some other heritage. It would be so much more interesting to be something other than white.
One may think that simply being gay would fit the minority bill, but it has never really felt like enough for me. If absolutely forced to, I can pass as straight. I can't really pass as another race, however. Perhaps one is only truly marginalized when you can't fake your way out of it.
I've always held onto a thin Native American bloodline as a point of interest. My mother informed me of this when I was quite young. We were of the Arapahoe tribe, to be exact, on my mother's father's side.
But I still wanted to be a cowboy whenever be played "Cowboys and Indians." I mean, didn't we all?
I've held tight to this claim, trying to bring it up casually whenever called upon to answer the question "what are you?"
"Oh, you know, mostly white. Some other stuff." Pause for effect. "I mean, I do have some Native American in me...." Trail off to build the suspense.
Though this usually goes ignored, one out of five times it will draw a follow-up question -- "what tribe?" -- often accompanied by an incredulous look.
"Arapahoe!" I will proudly proclaim, then try to change the subject immediately, since I know next to nothing about Native American heritage. And I really have no way to prove it anyway.
Of late, my mother has become slightly obsessed with clarifying her own heritage. Call it a late-life crisis or empty-nest syndrome, but she has recently sprung for a full DNA workup. My brother and I received the following text message last week:
I thought you would like to know that I had DNA testing done and found that we are 95% Western European + 5% African.. I am surprised about no Native American I have always been told that dad's dad was part Arapaho I guess that was more fashionable at the time than being African. Love you both.
This changes everything. I'm black. This is some of the best news I have ever heard. I'm a gay black man. And I have DNA evidence to prove it. (The second part, at least.)
With my mother at a solid 5-percent black, that makes me at least 2.5-percent black. It may not sound like much, but if I were milk, I certainly wouldn't qualify as skim. I'm closer to low-fat. And as a gay man, I like the sound of that.
Being black just feels so right, and so much more interesting than being part Native American. It's so much more subversive and unexpected. This is a real party trick. Although I do feel a bit guilty about having abandoned my Native American roots. Haven't we taken enough from them?
One additional minor drawback: I am currently in a long-term (and what I previous thought was) interracial relationship with a gay black man. I'd always reveled in how trendy and diverse our pairing was. Now, we are just a black gay couple. But at least now his parents only have one thing to be angry about.