The election of Kamala Harris to the seat of Vice President of the United States is a landmark event on so many levels. Upon national recognition of this news, many voices lifted up and shouted with joy from the mountaintops.
“We have a Black Vice President.”(The Twitterverse)
“Kamala Harris To Make History as the First Black Woman Vice President.”Segers, Grace. “Kamala Harris to make history as the first Black woman vice president.” CBS News, 7 Nov. 2020. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kamala-harris-first-black-woman-vice-president. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.
“She is the first Black woman and the first South Asian woman vice president-elect.”Fatima-Tul Farha and Kaanita Iyer. “This is America: Kamala Harris is a first – and ‘won’t be the last’.” USA Today, 12 Nov. 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/11/12/vice-president-kamala-harris-first-black-south-asian-woman-vp/6254489002/. Accessed 14 Nov. 2020.
These statements are not identical nor interchangeable. Rather, they highlight a truth I have lived with my whole life: It’s hard to be mixed in America.
Who is the “we” in the first quoted statement? Is it America…or is it Black people? What is the crucial distinction between the first two and the third?
I appreciate that Kamala Harris openly embraces both halves of her family history. I love that her ancestral home in India celebrated her victory, and I am ecstatic our country has demonstrated through the democratic process that Black women get stuff done.
But the repeated, prevalent, and persistent casual statement that now a Black woman is in the White House bothers me because it does not recognize all of the awesomeness that is Kamala Harris. Why is her South Asian history only sometimes mentioned?
Zoe Saldana is a famously private American actress of Haitian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Lebanese descent. I read in this interview that she struggled because people would judge her on not being “black enough.”
Now this–this I really understand.
When I was first scoping out the new Spiderman movie Into the Spider-Verse, I read rave reviews that finally there was diversity in the typically white male lead role. Finally, there was a Black Spider-Man!
Imagine my damn surprise to watch this movie and hear Spanish rolling through Miles Morales’ apartment, spoken by his mother. SPANISH. My own home language.
Y’all, Miles Morales is MIXED. He is Black AND Puerto Ricano. Yet I rarely hear this second part mentioned anywhere. Why can we not embrace both halves of the whole person?
What I do hear is, “Finally, there is more recognition of Black people as superheroes.”
Did you all forget about Halle Berry as Ororo Munroe/Storm in the 2000 X-Men film, long before the historic and wonderfully made Black Panther of 2018? These roles are important. These roles should and must be made.
But what about Puerto Ricans? In a country effectively annexed to the United States like a poor third cousin who has no say about what is put on the table, why is their ONE superhero predominantly referred to as Black? Why is no one shouting from the mountaintops that Miles Morales is Black AND Puerto Rican?
Before you get ruffled that I am somehow detracting from the representation of Black people, let me pose another question: Where are my Latino and Hispanic superheroes of the silver screen? We have Ant Man’s comedic sidekick and Cheech Marin, neither of whom are particularly super-powered.
And Zorro, who’s like a sexier 19th century Batman without the brooding.
To eliminate Miles Morales as Latino is to subtract our .5 from the superhero balance, and now we are back to zero superheroes.
This is not to say that there have not been other Latino and/or Hispanic heroes from the printed page. Calm down, I can hear the fury of your Google Search typing all the way from over here. But it underscores, to me, how indefinable it is to be Latino and/or Hispanic.
Being Black is instantly recognizable. Being Latino is not. Being mixed means struggling to find a footing in either part of your heritage because inevitably there is this idea that two halves cannot make a whole
Not Black enough.
Not Brown enough, especially if your native-learned Spanish includes some dubious idioms and non-grammatically correct flavor.
I am a first-generation Mexican-American. My mother is a legal citizen originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. My dad is a white American with moldy roots mostly from England and Scotland. I am the lightest skinned person in my family–yes, I’m whiter than my white dad, probably because that blue collar working man is more of a crispy burned red. I am not responsible for my skin color, but I am often bluntly questioned as to the authenticity of calling myself Latina.
The word Latina is our version of #BlackGirlMagic. To me, it means, “I am Brown enough.”
When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her recent 2020 re-election, many news stations reported on how New Yorkers were passionately celebrating their faith in her. However, I did not see even one article about how Puerto Ricans might be celebrating the ascension of one of their own. AOC is a hero of the working class and has inspired so many Latinos, including myself, to accept ourselves as Brown enough, that our Spanish is good enough, that we can be Latino and American and aspire to political ambitions. But the public media rarely acknowledges her Puerto Rican heritage.
Somehow it was important to give coverage to Joe Biden’s great-great-great grandfather’s home county in Ireland, but not one word about AOC’s first-generation Puerto Rican connections. Why is that?
Also, why does it so often seem that AOC does not get the recognition for being Puerto Rican that Kamala Harris receives for being Black?
I can hear the thoughts ticking away in some minds that perhaps this article is about creating, or widening, the divide between Black and Brown people. When you slide your righteous rant into my DMs, I will be able to tell if you actually continued reading beyond this point because I am saying this clearly right now–nothing is further from the truth. I am here to point out uncomfortable facts and ask the unspoken questions.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a Puerto Rican via the Bronx; why did I have to look that up on Wikipedia? Am I not reading the right newspapers? I do actually read all the national news outlets and many international ones. So why is it that when AOC wins, she is American, but when Kamala Harris wins, she is Black or maybe Black and Indian.
It’s a good question. And it demonstrates how far we have to go, America, in our acceptance of what it actually means to be American.
To be American is to be from a mixed heritage. Somewhere we forgot about the melting pot and began to believe that being American equates to being white, and that needs to stop. If your heritage is Scottish, English, Irish, and Norwegian and you were born in América, guess what! You’re mixed.
Joe Biden is mixed.
If your heritage is Mexican, African, Swedish, Italian, and Balkan and you were born in America, guess what! You’re mixed.
Being American is incredibly unique; there are few if any other countries in the world that can celebrate so much diversity as there is contained within a single American human body. But we must stop fighting our actual selves and being ashamed–yes, I said it–of who we are.
America, we are mixed. It is time to embrace all of our heritage and our history, not just the original ancestors who came here seeking opportunity, or to escape persecution, or who were brought here against their will. That may have been the beginning, but what happened next?
What happened next in the past is the actual story of who we are today.
Joe Biden is only 18% Irish. Both of AOC’s parents are Puerto Rican. Yet somehow The New York Times, The LA Times, Reuters, ABC News, The Guardian, US News, and even Fox News felt it was important to highlight one of these and not the other as national news. You have to dig to find the percentage; the glossy overview of most of these articles tells it as if President Biden’s family emigration was much more recent. And what about that other 82%? It’s a very selective identification, who is a Muggle and who is not
Of course we can recognize the old country and where we came from and the journey of how we got here, but you know what? It wouldn’t hurt to celebrate all the parts of our life and history, as an individual made up of many cultures over the course of many generations.
One more bomb for the skeptics in the back: Some white people want to pretend they are actually European, but really they are not. It doesn’t matter if their ancestors came over on the Mayflower. Unless the family has been importing pure bloods for marriage for the past 244 years from their country of origin, guess what? THEY ARE MIXED!
Welcome to being American.
It’s time to embrace all the parts of who we are.