Dear Ancestors,

Why do people always ask about you? Not that I’m not proud of you, or that I want to be the center of attention, but I’m so sick of being asked about you like it’s some sort of test, mostly because you’re not here and I don’t know the right answers. The answers I know are either incomplete, ambiguous or unsatisfactory.

“Where are you from? … No, like, where are you really from?”

“What are you?”

I wish I could tell people the rules about asking. Not that there really are rules, but here are MY rules:

a) don’t ask unless it’s directly relevant to the conversation (ie, we’re talking about generational holidays or something, and EVERYONE is contributing specifics), and

b) don’t ever ask again. You get what you get, and you don’t get to get upset that I don’t trust you/us/this space enough to give more than I already offered. If I say LA (because I was literally born and raised and spent my whole life except for college here), or California (because my parents were ALSO both born and mostl–because my dad was a navy brat so also HI and VA–raised here), or multiracial (because it’s complicated and I don’t want to get into it), or if I don’t want to answer AT ALL?

THAT’s the answer I’m comfortable giving you, stop asking. You don’t get to demand more, though I’ll probably cave to peer pressure because I’ve been taught to be polite, but I will ALWAYS think less of you.

When Beanie was a baby, she started her college fund by booking several big jobs as a model (she was even made into twins for Target, thanks to the powers of photoshop!), and we were told by someone (genuinely don’t remember who) that she was a success because she looks so racially ambiguous.

Racially Ambiguous. That’s really what it feels like a lot of the time. I don’t know the answer, even if I WANTED to answer, and didn’t feel pressured.

Racially ambiguous.

Multi-racial. Biracial.



My answer changes depending on the circumstances. Not just how much I trust you, but also how relevant it is. If I’m talking to someone from Scotland while we’re both in Connecticut, I’m not going to tell them I’m from Pedro, because they’ll have no idea where that is; the easy answer is Los Angeles.

If I’m being pressured (because the questions are NEVER without stress and pressure), it’s because my skin color makes them feel entitled to demand details about you.

My mom’s parents didn’t speak English very well–though it was much better than my Spanish–and I only saw them a few days a year, and on those days there were usually lots of other people, and I was either supposed to play with the other kids or be quiet around the adults, so I didn’t get family history stories. My aunts and uncles and cousins all have stories to share, of course, but it feels a bit like we’ve all played telephone, as different people have different versions of our ancestors.

I can tell all about my dad’s side. When I was little, my grandma was my most frequent babysitter, and she’d tell me all the stories of her family and my grandfather’s family. I loved hearing about my grandma’s childhood; she didn’t remember much about Chile or Peru, (her dad was part of the Foreign Service), but she told me horror stories of her French boarding school, a fun story that sounded like Mandy in real life about summer camp in England, visiting her governess to ski during school vacations, attempting to be a cheerleader at a Canadian school in Japan (her father was too strict and wouldn’t let her). I have boxes and boxes of photo albums and letters and documents from my grandmother and great-grandmother. They had their genealogy traced back through President Taft, through 2 (or was it 3?) Admirals in the navy, Roger Williams and all the way to the Mayflower, where I think we had 5 direct ancestors?

I could pay for a DAR membership and a Mayflower Society membership, if I wanted, because it’s all documented properly.

and yet.

I already go through life having to constantly prove that I belong. If I answer that I’m from here, or I’m American or whatever, I get an annoyed look, because the question isn’t really about me, or the family I know all about.

People are asking about the brown side. I wonder if they even know they’re doing it?

The stories I’ve heard most commonly are that my maternal grandfather was Huichol from Michoacan, who came to the US in the 1940s as part of the Bracero Program, and my maternal grandmother was Tarahumara, or Tarahumara + Spanish, or, most recently, Yaqui, and she was born somewhere in California (there are at least 3 different legal birth certificates, but all in California.)

So what does that all mean? Am I “Native American?” No, I do not have any tribal affiliation. Indigenous? Probably, mostly. Am I Mexican? maybe? Does being 1/4 Mexican make me Mexican? My cultural experience was much more Huichol-specific than pan-Mexican. But 1/4 also doesn’t seem enough to claim to be Huichol. My aunt describes herself as Indigenous Mexican, and that feels closer to …. truth, but still not very specific, and that doesn’t include the white half of me at all.

People are asking about the brown side, but I don’t know how to answer.

Part of it makes sense. We’re social animals, right? We want to find our pack, figure out who belongs, is safe…

But I don’t know the answer, other than BROWN.

There’s a certain irony to being asked by a white person to tell them about my brown side when the reason I don’t know the answer is that historically, white people–INCLUDING MY OWN WHITE ANCESTORS–have been largely successful at annihilating my brown ancestors, eradicating their culture, and preventing me from learning about them (except via white authors and research).

Ditto the irony that the side I know all about is part of the group that will never accept me.