Declaring Biracial: Notes From The Ambiguous

Sometimes, my ambiguity makes me feel like I am hiding.

By Alida Nugent

I’m biracial. If you meet me, you’ll probably eventually ask, on account of how much I look like… somebody. 

I probably look like somebody Armenian you know, or maybe a little bit like your old housekeeper’s daughter, who was Greek. Perhaps my nose and eyebrows look Italian to you, or that my skin color reminds you of your Dominican dental hygienist. I am nobody, really, but a light mix of the foreign people, the non-white, and the whiteish people you know. That’s me: Lady Conversation Starter. Before I am my own history, I am the Israeli girl. I have to be Israeli! I know. You went to Israel, and I look like a lot of the girls there. Very rarely will you get it right. I am Puerto Rican. I am Irish. I will never tire of declaring it. This is me:

It is an odd thing to declare race. It is odd that you do not know who I am by looking at me, and it is odd that I can hide in this. It is bad to live in a time where hiding is a good thing---where looking vague is safer, and lets you lead a life wondering just a little less do they like me despite, are they suspicious because, am I good here even though?… Being biracial means I am safer, looking white means I am safer, and it is odder still to be grateful for those little tiny bits of luck.

But I do declare my race, and often. It is uncomfortable, but I find it necessary. I do not like to feel like I am hiding. Sometimes, my ambiguity makes me feel like I am hiding; like you will find something about me that will change everything. Sometimes, it does.

There was a Cheerios Commercial that featured a biracial family, and I loved it. Biracial families aren’t seen too often on television. There are biracial romances, often seen as taboo and illicit and surrounded by a series of problems and obstacles, but not families. My mom and dad got together when they were in high school. Not everybody was supportive initially, but they got married and now we are just normal—an American melting pot, with Cheerios.

I was in my mid-20’s when I saw this commercial and I thought, how nice-- the same way I do when I see Latina women on television or chubby girls in magazines. That’s me! It’s nice to see me! I forget you can see yourself on television!

And still, people complained. I was almost surprised to hear it, in some sad way. I like to forget that the world takes issue with the mundane and personal things people do in their spare time: who they love, who they marry, who they reproduce with, amongst other things. But they do. Oh, how they do.

So I remind people who I am. I’m not white, I’m beige. I grew up with an abuela and Celtic music. It is complicated, but often it is not. In my own world, it’s what I know: it’s the rest of the world that makes it muddy and unsure.

The vagueness of my own face does reveal things later on, and in spades. You can get real comfortable with someone, and then you mention where you came from and they’re cracking Mexican jokes with you from now on. Or they remember all the little comments they made in the past and become uncomfortable. I remember being in a car with someone, telling them I was Puerto Rican, and having them shun me. I remember sitting on a gravel driveway because I said who I was and then I wasn’t allowed in the house anymore. I could've been quiet, but I wasn’t. And I don’t want to be.

I want you to know who I am.

Everybody knows my mother isn’t white. Living as a visibly non-white person is a different animal indeed, although she has a sense of humor about it. We went to the movie, The Help, and everybody looked at her to see if she was laughing. We were in Connecticut. Everyone in the theater was white. She thought this was funny. But mostly, it’s not so funny. Mostly living as a non-white person is a little more dangerous. I can’t say I’ve felt that. I’ve felt mostly safe as an ambiguous woman, the kind of person you need to squint at to figure out. While I acknowledge that, and the part of me that is white (and loves ketchup and dances with her arms), I no longer feel comfortable with being the kind of person you can squint at. I am Puerto Rican and Latina, and these parts are important to me—not only because they are a part of my history, but because it is important to declare it, no matter the consequence.  I am ambiguous in looks, but not in voice. I will let you know who I am.

It is because of this gray area that I choose to speak out. If you have a problem with me, by all means: let me know.

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