As far back as I can remember, I was never certain about my race. I knew I was similar to those around me. Physically, there was nothing about me that set me a part from those in the neighborhood. I’d been teased about “sounding white” because I spoke differently than a lot of people around me. I took it in stride even though I didn’t understand it at the time. It wasn’t until I was about nine that things took a turn and I began to question what I was. My mother was disowned by her family, with reason, and we fell into that same “black sheep” category. For whatever reason, this propelled my mother into a sense of self-mutilation. She denied any connection to the Puerto Rican community and searched for something else in the archives of genealogy.
She found what she was looking for. She found what she needed to connect herself to a Native American culture and identity. In that moment and the years that followed, my mother rebuked all other races and cultures. We were told how horrible Puerto Ricans were, even though we’d been told this was our cultural identity up until this point. That had to be thrown away. My mother thrust me into anything associated with the native culture and kept her eye on the prize. She changed her name and covered her body in the stereotypical tattoos one would associate with said culture.
I’m going to be 33 soon. The same age of my uncle who passed when I was nine. When everything changed for my mother. When we had to disregard what she deemed “less.” Moving to the midwest, I experienced being mistaken for black. I’m still accused of “speaking white.” I’ve been shunned for not knowing my “native language.” For being a shame to my race. For diluting the heritage and producing a half-white son.
My plight is not the worst. My struggle does not define an entire culture. I won’t pretend to know how others feel or how they are dealing in light of elections and government implications. I am only one person. I don’t know what criteria I should fill in order to be deemed “racially aware.” I haven’t been back to Puerto Rico since I was 13. I’m studying Spanish in college and hope I can teach my son the language. For many reasons.
I struggle with the discussion. I don’t expect others to understand or even care. I don’t know what path I should walk. I don’t know if it matters at this point in my life. A bird is still going to fly, whether we call it a bird or not. I don’t know if the title means as much as is implied.
I’m just a bird. I want to fly. I’m built to fly. I don’t know if I need to be told that I’m a bird in order to do that. If I was told I’m a lizard…I don’t know if that would hinder whether or not I choose to ever use my wings.
And that’s about all I know.
…AND, I know I do not know everything.