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When I was in kindergarten, a girl in my class told me that if my mommy is really white and my daddy is really black, I should be grey instead of beige. At five years old, this comment wasn't particularly concerning to me, because I had never put much thought into ethnicity or race, especially not my own being biracial. The only meaning her question held for me was that this girl was excelling in our colour mixing unit in art class.
Even after that day, I didn't put much thought into my racial make up. I knew my dad was black and my mum was white. I never explained it to anyone, because it didn't feel important enough to warrant explanation and it didn't bother or confuse me so I couldn't understand why it would bother or confuse anyone else. A lot of my friends were mixed growing up. There was this ongoing joke that there were more mixed kids in the Greater Toronto Area than there were kids of one race. It felt very normal.
When I was about twelve years old, my mum and I were sitting in the waiting room at a dental office. A white woman, who was probably in her 50s at the time, struck up a conversation with my mum while I pretended not to listen. After some polite remarks about what was on the television and a recipe being featured on Chatelaine magazine, the woman felt comfortable enough to ask my mum a few personal questions. Were we from the area? Had we been patients at the office long? And then she dropped the big one. She gave me a sort of side-eyed glance (which I can only assume she thought went unnoticed) and asked my mum, "So... are you her social worker?" I distinctly remember steam pouring out of my mum's ears. My mouth hung open, unable to hide the fact that I had been listening all along. My mum replied through clenched teeth, "No, I'm her mother." I don't remember what happened past that point, but I know it launched me into an all-consuming awareness that I definitely didn't look like I belonged to my parents.
From that day onward, I couldn't help but notice how different I looked from my parents and extended family. My nose wasn't flat or pointy, my lips weren't very full or very thin, my hair was a hybrid between the kinky curls my dad sported and my mum's pin straight hair. I wasn't black and I wasn't white. I was both, and being a brown girl had become the most overwhelmingly confusing thing I could've been.
Quite frankly, I looked adopted. Unless I was with both parents at the same time, there was nothing about me that would indicate to a stranger that I wasn't. I had never believed there was anything wrong with being adopted, but I wasn't, and the thought that passers by probably thought I was was very upsetting, even though it wasn't a bad thing.
The small things became more and more noticeable. My cousins on my mum's side went to the same high school as me. With their blonde hair and blue eyes, we could've bet money on people not being willing to believe that we were related in any way, let alone as first cousins. In grocery stores with my parents, the clerk usually thought that we were all separate. We would stand in the queue all together and could always count on them asking us all individually, "Will you be needing a bag today?" without fail. Airport security in the Dominican Republic treating my father and I as if we were trying to sneak out of the country while my mum waltzed through, never believing us when we said that we were all together.
For a good portion of my pre-teen and teenage years, being biracial felt like a hassle. I didn't like not looking like my parents. I felt alienated from both sides of my family and my sense of identity was clouded by the constant question of "am I more black or more white?" that looped in my head. Now I am in my twenties and being biracial feels like a blessing. I get the good (and bad) parts of two very different and rather beautiful cultures with rich histories. My questioning of my identity stemmed from the reaction that it got from other people. The confusion and disbelief was discouraging, but the reality is I just get the best of both worlds.