April 17, 2016

GUEST ROOM | The Gift of Duality

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I am bi-racial. I live in two worlds — two worlds that will always define who I am. When people ask me, “If you had to choose between being Black and Latino, which would you choose?” I answer, “I am 100 percent Black and I am 100 percent Latino.” No separation exists. Before coming to this conclusion I struggled to solidify my identity. I thought to myself, “Where do I, the half Black half Mexican kid, fit in?” Now, as I reflect on my childhood experiences I embrace my racial duality and understand that being bi-racial puts me in a unique position to create a special identity for myself apart from race.

Summer 2005 (Age 8): The Flea Market with Grandpa David Gonzalez (Mexican)

“Hola, hola, chica como estas? En que le ayudo?” my grandpa announced across the fruit stand. “We have apples four for a dollar, watermelons a cinco. Dime.” I usually attended to the customers, but today I was stuck behind the scenes throwing out smelly, old, maggot infested onions. Grandpa turned towards me “Andale Mijo, hurry, we need to bag those onions; we don’t have any at the front. You gotta motivate yourself!”All I could think about was the ice cream cone that came afterward.

Lesson: “You gotta motivate yourself!” Good things come to those who work hard.

Fall 2007 (Age 10): McDonald’s is Not for Kids with Grandpa Edward Murray (African American)

At McDonald’s Corey (my cousin), Grandpa, and I waited for the next available register. When it was our turn, Grandpa placed his order clearly, annunciating every syllable with a brief pause between each word, “I would like to have a senior coffee and two apple pies.” Next was Corey, then it was me. “Lemmee … I want pancakes … uhm” Grandpa grabbed me by the arm and pushed me up to the counter, “Son, the lady can’t hear you. You need to speak up.” I was embarrassed, but I proceeded with my order. “I want pancakes, sausage, egg, and an orange juice.” As if nothing had happened, he turns to us and asks, “Now, when I look down from above, what contribution will you have made to the world?”

Lesson: Speak up. Speak clearly. Speak for others’ understanding if you have something to say.

Summer 2010 (Age 13): Eating at Las Cazuelas with Grandpa David Gonzales (Mexican)

At the Mexican restaurant, everyone knew Grandpa. People from the kitchen shouted, “Hola, Mr. Gonzales, how are you?” A waitress wearing heels, black fitted slacks, a pressed white collared shirt, red lipstick, and a flower in her hair bun greeted us and took us to a table. Without question, she brought Grandpa his cup of coffee. Then she asked, “Mr. Gonzales, do you need more sugar for your coffee?” Jokingly, he replies, “Mija, I don’t need any more sugar. Don’t you think I’m sweet enough already?” She laughs and says, “Ay Mr. Gonzales, what am I gonna do with you?”

Lesson: Live to the maximum. Enjoy people, their company, and their beauty.

Spring 2013 (Age 16): Pressing my Clothing with Grandpa Edward Murray (African American)

“Awe c’mon son. That’s how you iron your shirts?” Grandpa stood up from the sofa and walked over to me. “This is how you do it.” He lifted the shirt off of the ironing board and stretched it across the board removing all wrinkles. “Now you iron.” I ironed as he said, but he stood there with his hands behind his back watching my every move. “Do it this way,” he would say as he adjusted the shirt. “Grandpa, I need to leave in ten minutes.” He looked at me blankly and after two seconds he wisely stated, “A real man lays his clothes out the night before. No man should go out in public with a wrinkled shirt”

Lesson: Dress to impress. Look your best at all times.

In retrospect, I see that each and every one of these experiences teaches a direct lesson that my grandfathers had to learn during their life. Blacks were seen as being uneducated — my Grandpa Murray wanted me to speak clearly. Blacks were seen as being filthy — my Grandpa Murray wanted me to have my clothes nicely pressed. Mexicans were seen as being lazy and abusers of the federal aid system — my Grandpa Gonzales wanted me to learn the value of hard work. Mexicans were seen as being criminals — my Grandpa Gonzales displays humor and affection to everyone he meets. These stories display the efforts to combat racial stereotypes during their childhood and adult life. From these lessons, I have internalized the values of hard work, education, professionalism and good-will. These tools given to me by my bi-racial heritage capacitated me to chisel the man I want to be.

Because these values are upheld in many other cultures aside from the African American and Mexican culture, connecting with communities of different backgrounds does not seem foreign to me. No matter the religion, skin color, language, appearance, I see someone as human before anything else. That perspective I attribute to my bi-cultural background. I am not bound to the confines of one race, nor am I bound by the confines of two races. Instead, because I have moved between my Mexican heritage and Black heritage, I know I can move between the mosaic of world cultures seamlessly — a true gift.

Isaiah Murray is a freshman in the College of Arts, Architecture and Planning. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.