This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader.
Overview: I’ve never been able to identify with any one race or ethnic group. While it used to make me feel isolated, traveling has made me feel more globally connected than ever. I’m proud to be an American mutt.
I’ve always checked the “other” box in the race section of job applications and standardized tests. When I was a child, I couldn’t really relate to anybody on the basis of ethnicity—I didn’t have one, after all; I have several and it was too complicated to explain every time. When people ask, “what are you?” (and they do, everywhere I go), I usually won’t bother to rattle off list the eight or so countries that my immediate ancestors came from to pave the way for my existence. We’re all mixtures of something, but we don’t all identify as mutts.
This winter, I spent Christmas in Hawaii where I met a woman introduced to me by a friend of a friend back home in New York. We’d been following each other on Instagram for a while before we met and one day I noticed she posted a selfie with the hashtags #French and #Cherokee. We hung out at the beach one day and I told her I was both of those things, too. Not only, but they were in there. We bonded over that. “We’re from the same tribe,” she said and smiled.
Most countries in the world seem downright homogenous compared to the United States. “Diversity” is a word often spoken with urgency, or with air quotes and an eye roll because we are failing at it so hard in this country that’s supposed to be the great melting pot. We’re not failing, really. We are struggling, and that is different from failing. When you’re struggling, you are trying. And if you’re still trying, you haven’t failed. Obviously, things are far from a perfectly balanced utopia here, but we’re way better at diversity than most places. I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep trying, and that we shouldn’t be angry that so many people are systematically oppressed. But we can also take an outrage breather and feel a spot of pride every now and then.
I remember the first time I rode the subway after traveling around the world for a year. I cried because it was so beautiful. The subway is the global equalizer in NYC. No matter how wealthy a person is, if she needs to span Manhattan in 4:30 gridlock traffic, she’s going to be taking the subway. That morning, coming home, I was overwhelmed by the diversity of the cross-sectional sample that was my train car.
These days I like checking the other box. When I was younger, I was self-conscious that my racial ambiguity made me stand out. It wasn’t until I traveled around the world that I really appreciated being able to relate to each of the components that make me who I am, and the unique whole. These days, I love that my race allows me to blend in all over the world by being able to identify with almost every different ethic group. It’s my personality that makes me stand out.