While the United States is supposed to be the melting pot, the home of diversity and uniqueness, I find that racism is still very prominent in this country, and within our own society. We have a come a very long way in the past 50 years, but it is evident that we have not yet come far enough. Racism far extends blacks against whites. It puts Hispanics against other Hispanic groups, Italians against Albanians, whites against Asians, religions against religions, and so on and so forth.
It makes one ask what is really going on? Why in this country where there is so much diversity — where there is so much beauty because of the diversity — is there still so much hate? One would think that in a country founded on people coming together to get away from oppression that people would join together and be kinder to one another, but this isn’t always the case.
Are we taught as children that our nationality is really that much better than that of another, and if you are born in this country, how much of that history you do really carry with you? After all, you live here. In America. And so you can be a descendant of one or many other places, but you are an American. That should unite you with other Americans, should it not? But what exactly is an American and what does it mean to truly be an American?
I am of Italian and Puerto Rican descent with lineage on my Italian side going back to Naples and lineage on my Puerto Rican side going back to Spain and Corsica. On my father’s side, I am a 3rd generation American, and on my mother’s side, I am a 4th generation American as Puerto Ricans are American citizens.
My father was born and raised in the Bronx; my mother was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, and traveled back and forth from New York to Puerto Rico. Both my parents worked, and I would spend a lot of time after school with my paternal grandmother who taught me how to cook traditional Italian meals. Many of the holiday traditions in our home, like meals, were more Italian. This was never really done on purpose; it just sort of worked out that way. Nevertheless, language was a different story. As a child I could speak, read, and write in both English and Spanish. I used to love being able to translate for my maternal and paternal grandmothers. When my maternal great-grandmother passed, I lost a lot of my Spanish. There was no longer any one to speak to me in Spanish and so it became a thing of the past. As an adult, I can still say a few things in Spanish, and my pronunciation is always perfect, but after a few sentences, I find myself lost in conversation.
But as a child, many people assumed I was German. I had pale, porcelain skin, and bright blonde hair. People almost never assumed my actual heritage. Schoolmates made being mixed miserable. While I didn’t look any different from most of the children I attended school with, my school was predominantly Italian. I once had a child tell me I was a disgrace to Italians everywhere because my mother was Puerto Rican. When I was 6, we moved from our tiny apartment in Westchester to a modest house in the Bronx. Our first greeting from a new neighbor was when she told my mother she was happy they sold the home to nice Italians and not spics. Needless to say, she was shocked when my mother thanked her and introduced herself as one of those spics she so despised. Yet, even with her rude introduction, my mother and another neighbor who also happened to be of Puerto Rican descent were the only two people in the neighborhood who helped that old woman. They would shovel her snow and clean leaves from her driveway, put out her garbage, and check on her. Isn’t it funny how the people you hate are those who are kindest to you? I didn’t see her old Italian friends doing that!
Even my own paternal grandmother had a lot to say about Hispanics. I remember freaking out on her one day because she said, “I didn’t mean you, I was talking about people like your mother.” (People like my mother — my mother, who allowed my grandmother to live with us for 16 years; my mother who, when my grandmother was ill, took care of her like she was her own mother up until the day she passed; my mother, who was simply too good hearted for her own good, that mother…) My reply was, “And where exactly do you think I came from? The sky?” She didn’t have a response after that. Eventually she apologized, and while all was forgiven, it unfortunately was never for gotten. Words are funny things — once you say them, you don’t get to ever take them back.
After high school, things seemed to get easier. People seemed nicer, and I thought racism was sort of a dead issue, as naive as that may sound. College was easy and very diverse. The world seemed like a big, happy, unified place. But then I entered the workplace. While I personally haven’t experienced racism towards me, I have seen it both in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, and I can’t help but wonder why. Why do people still have such mean thoughts about one another?
I have even seen it in relationships. I have never personally dated much outside of my own nationalities, but I have noticed that many Italian men (this is not to bash all Italian men… my father is one and he is NOT and never was this way) are living in a backwards world. They love the exoticism of other nationalities, but they can’t handle anything that isn’t Italian. Everyone else is a “spic” or a “nigger” or a “gouk.” They are very “accepting” when dating, but then they have all kinds of rules to abide by. Mixed children are raised Italian and everything and everything is Italian (even in this country). Forgive my stupidity, but if we live in America, shouldn’t we preach American pride and diversity? After all is this not the country our ancestors fled to? Or am I confused?
I have seen this so often, not just in some of my own relationships, but in friends’ relationships as well and my head spins like the exorcist. I just want to scream at the top of my lungs to anybody who thinks they are better than anyone else that this is 2014, and people need to get over it and get over themselves.
Who are you? What makes you so damned special and so much better than the next person? Is blood not blue, and when it pours out of you, do you not bleed red? Do you not breathe air? Did you not come from a woman? Will you not die? Who are you? You are just dust in the universe as we all are so why are you any different than any other human on this Earth? Your nationalities may differ, but your race does not. If you see a brown dog, do you see it as different from a white one or a black one, or are they simply dogs — cute, loving, loyal?
And so I return to what makes an American? Maybe being American is different to different people, but to me being American means being different. It means everyone is different, and that makes us the same. Many children are mixed with all sorts of things. Nationalities will soon be a thing of the past. Maybe that’s a good thing. Mixed babies are beautiful. People are beautiful when you learn to look at them as individuals, and not lump them into whole groups.
What makes people act certain ways anyway? Is it poverty? Money? Entitlement? Some people are assholes; others are not. We can’t look at a majority, or what we think is a majority and group them together as a whole. Stereotyping is a huge part of racism, and while many people become aggravated when they are stereotyped, many others choose to act out their stereotypes because they believe it is supposed to be that way. By stereotyping people are we really causing and breeding more racism? I believe so. It’s time to remove the labels and unite as a country. Let’s stop being black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim — whatever — and start being American. That doesn’t mean ignore your heritage, or your religions, or your history; it simply means lets accept each other and build each other up instead of tearing one another down.