I come from a proud father. He sends me articles about how Hispanics are changing the world. I have a family graph (think connect the dots) of how my great, great, great, great grandparents met on a ship from Spain and how we — this generation of Duarte’s — came to be. When we were kids, my sisters and I would constantly say “Da-aaad, stop saying we’re Mexican, we’re American!” His reply was always, “Yes, you are American, Mexican American.” This was quickly met with tween age eye rolls and sighs. “Okay dad, what-ev-er”.
It wasn’t until I had my son that I came to understand why my Latin roots mean so much to my father, and now as a mother, mean everything to me.
Eons ago, when I was born, I had shocking dark hair, and there was no mistaking that I was a Latina baby. While pregnant, I had this image of what my son would look like, (think Diego from “Dora the Explorer”). My son was not even close to this image. Immediately after his birth, I looked at my husband and said, “I just gave birth to your grandfather.” He had pale white skin and light hair, not even close to the dark Latino hair I had been hoping for. It was as if my genetic code was ignored in the creation of this boy.
A few days after leaving the hospital, while standing in line at the bank, and a man asked me about my new baby, then asked if I had adopted him. After 36 hours of labor, I wanted some credit for my hard work, and was annoyed that he told me something I was already upset about. My son didn’t look like me. It stung.
When my best friend (a Californian blonde) came to visit a month later, my husband and I took her to dinner with baby in tow. When people came over to “ooh and ahh,” they would congratulate my gringa best friend and my husband, who obviously matched their ‘idea’ of who the baby’s parents were based on his looks.
This went on for 3 years, until slowly my son started to resemble me. He now looks like a warmer version of my husband, but he is clearly my child.
This post is starting to sound like it matters that my son looked like me. While having my son look more Latino would be nice, what I care most about is that my son understands his heritage. I guess I thought that if my son looked like me, he would understand (and embrace) his cultural background.
Now at 5 years old, the conversations I have with my son mirror those that my father once had with my sisters and myself.
“Why are you brown?”
“I’m not brown. I’m white like daddy.”
“You’re Mexican, like me,” I reply.
“Sorry mom I am not Mexican, I’m me.”
I try to explain that he is, of course, his own person, but I am made up of Spanish, Italian, French, and Mexican, which means he has this mix as well, plus his father’s Irish, English, Polish, and German mix. I explain that his middle name, Ignacio (clearly Hispanic), is named after my 96- year-old Abuelita Nacha (who was/is the best nana ever). This back and forth is going a year strong. We have it on the bus, as well as walking down the street.
“Daddy and I are white and you are not.”
“Yup, that’s right my skin is light brown and mommy loves it.”
My husband has now declared himself Mexican to pledge allegiance to my cause. It is slowly working. To appease me, my son has now decided he is Mexican on Friday and Sundays. I’ll take it.
My father insisted we understand our heritage and I will hold strong that my son understands it as well. I know, like my father, my persistence will pay off and one day my boy will be Mexican every day of the week.