How we divide

We were making copies using the ditto machine in the teacher’s resource room of our school.

When the teacher’s aide – we kids called “slap jaw” – walked through the intoxicating fumes of the duplicating solvent to talk to us.

She asked us where we were going to high school – we both replied Sullivan. She pulled out her copy of the Gale Echo – our school’s yearly black and white booklet and opened it to the centerfold exposing the pictures of the graduating 8th graders.

Slap jaw thrust the paper and a pen towards me and asked me to autograph my light-greyish picture, saying I would be famous one day.

You were standing next to me, my sister, my desk mate in our “gifted” class, my friend for as long I could remember, our fate sealed by our shared initials R-F-R, your dark-greyish picture next to mine.

5th_grade_b_w

 

I remember looking at her, looking at you, then looking at her again. Perhaps I had a stupid smile on my face, thinking she just forgot, a simple oversight, she was an old white woman.

I remember that pause – that moment it took slap jaw to realize she should ask for your autograph too, but it was too late. She exposed our differences.

 

Freshman year of high school, I was labeled white for the first time. I’m not white. I’m a child of immigrants.

 

I played basketball in high school.

We played all-white suburban schools outside Chicago. We played all-black south and west side schools in Chicago.

To some, I looked more like suburban white than south side black.

My sisters of basketball.

When I fell in love with a black man from the west side, he told me I wouldn’t be accepted by his people. To his family, friends, and neighbors, I was white.

I remember feeling my love is no different.

 

In high school, I labeled myself a half-breed – something I heard or read someone call a Native American whose parents weren’t both Native.

But was I a half-breed German or a half-breed Cuban? What half of what breed would I be?

30 years later I received my AncestryDNA® results. I remember looking at the colored blobs over parts of the globe where my people came from.

The European continent was aglow in a rainbow of blobs.

90% of my DNA is European Mutt, my ancestors traversed the lands from Spain east towards Poland, from Scandinavia, south to Italy and Greece.

The other 10% comes from the continents of North and South America, Africa, and West Asia (the middle east).screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-7-54-12-am

 

The complicated mess of my DNA is a result of wars, colonization, slavery, revolutions, migration, immigration and everything in between.

My DNA unites, rather than divides.

I may not look like you. Our phenotypes make us look different to each other. But when we look inside we will find our similarities.

 

Aloha

When I was a basketball player…

My height is an aspect about my physical appearance that I just can’t hide.

I really can’t hide.

Me, trying to make a lay up...
Me, trying to make a lay up…

Not in a crowd, not in the subway, or the supermarket, nope I stick out. The only place I have traveled where I felt short was in the Netherlands. Everyone there, women included, were tall! Even the friend I was with made a comment about how I had “found my tribe.” The only problem was they were all blond haired and blue eyed and spoke a language I don’t think I could ever understand. They were not my tribe.

The places I have visited where I feel most tribal, like Peru, Bolivia, Cuba or Mexico, I don’t look like them. My 6-foot, olive skin, light brown hair and eyes, just don’t allow me to fit in. The looks I got when I spoke Spanish in those countries were ones of confusion and disbelief.  “Where did you learn to speak Spanish with an accent?” They would ask. Even when I explained my colorful heritage – Mom is Cuban, Dad is German, grew up in Chicago – they would answer – “Ah, es Alemana.” Oh, you are German… Problem solved, at least for them.

My senior year of high school, I thought I finally had my chance at being part of a tribe. My school was finally getting a girl’s basketball team. It was 1987. What other place than on the basketball court with other tall girls, would I feel most at home, most normal?

I was tall, I was a quick learner, my hand-eye coordination wasn’t so good, but I learned how to dribble and run at the same time. Basketball workouts did wonders for my physique – I think that was when I finally burned off all of that pudgy stuff called “baby fat.” I became a tall, lean, basketball machine.

I played Center. Which is sort of a cliche, but I was the tallest on the team. Although it was always a source of contention for the second tallest girl, whose perm made it look like she was taller at times. I had a mean rebound, which made up for my failures at doing lay up shots. Why I couldn’t hit the little square with the ball, at the right angle, with the right force, to then make a basket still perplexes me…  I think the analytical part of my brain wanted to know the equation or law of physics or geometry behind the theory of lay up shots – then I may have been able to “get it.”

There was a level of respect between teammates. We played well together and we didn’t fight each other, but we were not best friends and we never hung out after practice.

This didn’t decrease my desire to be their friend or to hang out. It’s just that even though we were the tall and athletic girls of our school – we still had differences that were hard to overcome. We lived in different neighborhoods, we had different socioeconomic backgrounds, none of us went to the same grammar school (which mattered for some reason) and I was in all AP classes.

I was learning a lesson that season of basketball. I was learning that the idea of a tribe of similar people is a farce. A farce that I feel many people aspire towards – that fantasy-land of similar looking and like-minded people. What I gained and cherish to this day, is the ability to look at someone and see myself in them. A person searching for their tribe, when their tribe is all around them waiting to be acknowledged.

Thank you sisters of basketball!

My sisters of basketball.
My sisters of basketball.