Wednesday, July 4, 2018

A CHILD OF TWO WORLDS





A CHILD OF TWO WORLDS

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       didn't anticipate what it would be like to birth a child of two worlds. In many ways, my husband Sam and I thought we had prepared for it. We planned to teach him both English and Spanish. He would be exposed to all celebrations of the cultures that we grew up with, all traditions, and all cuisines. We wanted him to be proud of himself and of every part of his background. But so much of our experience thus far has had little to do with what Sam and I planned to do.
   When Sam and I got engaged, I experienced the negative aspects of the cultural differences between us for the first time. Before then, I gloated over the richness they brought to our relationship: our diverse backgrounds, celebrations, languages, and food—then came time for a wedding.
   In Anglo-American culture, this meant a designated guest list, a seating chart, catering per plate, and strict RSVP deadlines. So that is what we did. To my Mexican-American family, this was a slight; in a culture of welcoming extended relatives with open arms without advance notice and cooking enough for unanticipated guests, to have to pick and choose and limit the people who wanted to see you (and then demand a nearly contractual verification of attendance) was beyond the boundaries of entitlement and rudeness.
   Somehow, Sam and I survived the chaos, though not without an extended amount of unintended offense to people we love. After this logistical heartache, we naively thought we had experienced the end of our difficulties merging our cultures and that we could put the invisible division of them behind us.
   And then we got pregnant. To Sam and I, pregnancy meant worrying that we would not miscarry and obsessing about whether the baby was healthy.  We were cautious of all the pregnancy warnings and frantic over preparing for his arrival. And though we were curious whether the baby would look more like Sam or more like me, we never realized how much this translated into the world as a worry about whether he would be White like Sam or Mexican like me until we were among the separate cultures.
    Though I assume the comments and curiosity over his appearance were never made with malice, and though I tried as much as I could to consider them as neither good nor bad, I couldn't. I don’t know if it was the pregnancy hormones or my protectiveness as a mother, but I found myself extremely sensitive to the comments and many times offended, even when comments were not made to offend. Every comment was a reminder that he was not seen objectively, but rather in relation to one culture or the other as if the world was not whole.
   When Christoph was born, he was a healthy hunk of a baby with a perfect latch and strong cry. I was surprised to find that he looked neither entirely like Sam (a fair-haired, blue-eyed, mostly bald baby) or me (a dark-haired, brown-eyed baby with three scalps worth of hair). He was exactly somewhere in the middle; born with wet wisps of light auburn hair that shone gold in the sunlight and blue-grey irises that contrasted with the dark pupil of his eyes. His skin was rosy pink and pale to the touch. To my husband's family, he was "dark haired." To mine, he was "blonde." I'll never forget the feeling of that false, cultural polarity at birth. He was viewed at opposing ends of the spectrum by both cultures. Ni de aquí, ni de allá. It wouldn't be the last time that the cultural scales of color would be used to paint a skewed picture of my child of two worlds.
    About three weeks after he was born, during a Christmas celebration with my husband’s family, a relative commented with disbelief that Christoph’s pink skin was "very tan." Just a day later, during Christmas celebration with my family, my grandmother commented on how "rosy and fair" Christoph’s skin was. Though I doubt either intended it with malevolence, both comments felt like rejections. What I heard with each comment was, in effect, “He doesn’t take after us.” As a racially ambiguous Mexican myself, I was never prepared to feel so distraught over the conversation of skin color—a privilege of being white-passing.
    And then there were the countless comments about his eyes (as I say this I roll my own eyes). As someone well-versed in brown eyes, I was accustomed to the infant-dark eyes with a nearly indiscernible pupil that most brown-eyed babies are born with; all of which lighten, blossom, and bloom with their own unique color of rich amber, reddish, and/or golden tones by around their fourth birthday (and all of which vary in opacity much later in childhood from very light brown eyes to very dark brown eyes, despite having that same shade at birth). My husband, on the other hand, with his Scandinavian and Western European heritage, pretty much comes from a family dotted with the lightest and brightest blues.



   When Christoph opened his eyes, I was not sure what they were other than they were not the infant-dark eyes I knew. They started as a steely, blue-grey color. Previously ignorant of these eyes, I learned that many Caucasian children are born with these blue-grey eyes which can then change to blue, gray, green, amber, hazel, or brown. I can’t count how many times in well-wishing I was met with the comment, “Let’s hope they stay blue.”  They didn't.
   Around his third month, they lightened in opacity to a uniform light grey and, about a month later, they developed a gold ring near the pupil which floated out to a gradient greenish-gray on the outer ridges. A color on its own, sometimes bright and sometimes dark, sometimes bluer and sometimes browner, mostly somewhere in the middle. To my family, his eyes were still "blue" and "colored." And to my husband's family, his eyes were "brown." To me, my son's eyes were just the most expressive and beautiful eyes I'd ever seen without a single consideration for their color. His eyes were just always deep in thought, always thinking.
    And this was the first time I started thinking about how so many people in groups of "one eye color" automatically lumped anything different as the other.
   His eyes have since continued to change in color, brightness, and opacity back-and-forth depending on his clothing and the lighting from the time of day. Blue, they are not. And even though they might eventually acquire the wealth of depth and warm richness of brown eyes, they are not brown yet either. I welcome whatever outcome may come to be. I have fallen in love with every new way his eyes look because those eyes brighten up into a smile when they look at me.
   And I hope he always keeps that smile as he grows up. As a parent, I can only wish for my baby the best of the entire world; a wish that stems the fear of him not fitting in or being appreciated on his merits. I sincerely hope that he will not have to compete with any degree of colorism in both cultures, which favor him one way and disfavor him another. At the end of the day, I wish that the world will see him through my eyes of love and joy, despite where he falls on the color wheel of their own visual spectrum. Whether he is not White enough for White or Mexican enough for Mexican, at the end of the day, he is his own little unique dot of color in the mosaic of life.



You are my world, Christoph. 
Se lo que quieras ser, por que siempre seras mi todo. 
Con todo el amor del mundo entero, 
tu mami.




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