Is it possible that members of our own racial or ethnic community surround us for a long time that it can be difficult to recognize others’?
I am from a border town where it is primarily Mexican or Mexican-American people. When I first moved to a different city, I recognized how different I was or appeared to be to others. I never paid attention to it, though. It was natural, to me that I was going to meet people of different races, cultures, and nationalities.
However, the first time I really noticed how different others saw me was when I studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria last summer. I met so many great people from all over the world and I recognized how different we all were. One time, I was heading back to my room after a long day and another student approached me. He was from the United States too, Maryland. He asked me what my nationality was and I told him I was born in the United States, like him. He then said, “But why is your skin color like that?”
I felt my face get red with slight embarrassment because I never had to answer that question before.
“My parents are Mexican and I am Mexican-American. I was born in the United States." I talked about my family's race and ethnicity and about how brown skin tone was part of my ancestry. I also tried to explain that skin color doesn't define nationality.
He understood, but I was surprised at how the question of my nationality was relevant to my skin color. I argued that I could have brown skin and be from the United States. I wondered if he thought my race or ethnicity defined where I was from.
Assumptions can be hurtful with or without the intention. I immediately realized how different he saw me, even though we were from the same country. I also realized that this might not be the only time I may have to answer that question.
I think it’s important to know how to answer this question. It’s empowering to know who you are and where you come from. It can encourage your individuality and awareness of other races.
Let me ask you, when was the first time you noticed race?
How would you feel if anyone asked you to define yourself by nationality or race because it doesn’t make sense to him or her?
Terms to know (via Google):
Nationality: the status of belonging to a particular nation
Race: division of people based on biological characteristics
Ethnicity: state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition