Reno, Nevada is not a town typically known for its tolerance of diversity. In the 1960s, Nevada was known as the “Mississippi of the West” because of several racist policies. Even now, Reno’s majority demographic is white, followed by a growing Hispanic community. For me, as a Puerto Rican-Italian-Basque mix, it’s always been tough to fit in.
My origins are in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was born in San Jose, California, and lived in Fremont until I was 12 years old. In that time, I became accustomed to the simple fact that I was considered white, and even as a white person, I was a minority. The majority of Fremont citizens are Asian. Most of my friends were Asian or black.
When I moved to Reno, I was shocked to see how whitewashed it was. For many people from smaller Nevada towns, Reno is a melting pot, but to me it was the complete opposite – a real culture shock. It took years for me to adjust and it took several years after that for me to make one of my most important decisions: I don’t consider myself white.
Here in Reno, I’ve tried hard to ingratiate myself into the Latino culture, but I found that this was nearly impossible. I speak Spanish, but not fluently, and I simply don’t look like a Latina. Recently, one of my Mexican-American friends outright said it wasn’t true that I was Puerto Rican. Why would I lie about something like that? “Nah,” he had said. “You aren’t Puerto Rican.” Only after I insisted that most of my Puerto Rican relatives were lighter-skinned did he begin to believe me.
I started a personal blog highlighting my multiracial identification, and I finally began to find a community. I searched for blogs just like this one, just to see if other people ever felt the way I had. The fact is that I don’t blame Reno for the way I’ve been categorized. My first cousin lives in Connecticut and has dealt with similar racial pigeonholing. It’s simply American culture to force multiracial people to identify as one race or ethnicity.
The only way this can change is if we ensure that we have a voice, and that is what I have been trying to do for several months now – speak out about my experiences. I admit that I’ve had an easier life compared to most because I happen to have a lighter skin color, but as a multiracial person, I’ll always have something to say.