I am the African-American mother of a Mixed Heritage child who many think is white.  It doesn’t matter where I go in New York City, we get stares, comments and questions. New York is a place where most life is public—we aren’t in cars; we are on subways, buses and walking on sidewalks. We have approximately four inches of personal space at any given moment. We have face to face interactions with between five to one hundred strangers daily and people on the street voice their opinion of you with that same, easy, no-filter approach most experience from anonymous blog comments or at a family reunion. All the nationalities of the world are present and strangers from almost every continental background have reacted questioningly or dramatically to me with my daughter.

subway-crowd2(Photo Credit: NYCTalking.com)

We’ve received the weird reactions: the Orthodox Jewish receptionist in the breast-feeding clinic who yelled, “Wow, she’s white, you are so lucky!” when I took the cover off of my fifteen-day-old baby. We’ve been addressed by the presumptively insulting reactions: the African American/Caribbean security officer who announced to the co-op board that I wouldn’t be voting because I was the nanny. There are the various Israeli parents in the park who routinely glare at me and yank their children away from my daughter when they realize I am mommy and not nanny and the Yemini woman who followed me around Macy’s looking over my shoulder trying to get another look at the baby I held in the carrier on my chest. There are the eons of strangers—Russian, Jordanian, black, white, Vietnamese, and every other ethnicity and nationality, who have said upon seeing me and my daughter together without her father, “She’s your baby?”, “You’re her mother?” “Are you the nanny?” “She looks just like her father.” “She looks nothing like you.” Yup!  Racism, classicism, colorism, and rudeness are alive and assertive in New York City. But in my experience my daughter and I do not get these responses from Latino men and women.

“God bless you and your daughter,” Latino men say regularly when they see us.

“Your husband is a white man—she looks like you but she looks like him -curly from you but white and those eyes from him”, A Mexican man tells me in the grocery store.

“Oh, your daughter is beautiful. Your husband is white?” A Dominican girl comments and questions knowingly.

“I have one daughter just like yours,” a brown-skinned Dominican cab driver nods at me proudly.

“My father is white too,” smiles a Puerto Rican man at the bodega who is darker than Idris Alba.

My daughter and I are at home –our biological mother-daughter relationship recognized on first glance in these encounters with Latino strangers. It is welcoming and comfortable— a reprieve from the “staring at a freak show” or “dismissing the nanny” looks I get from non-Latinos in my travels around the city.

I’m semi-fluent in Spanish and  have noticed that on the occasions when I say the few Spanish phrases my daughter knows to her in public, we pass through the city without comment from anybody. It seems that in the minds of non-Latino New Yorkers, Latinos are exclusively granted the license to have families of diverse racial phenotypes, while all non-Latinos are expected to have obviously similar physical traits to our biological children. Even within my own family this is true despite my daughter and I proving the opposite. When, after her first birthday, my daughter was still peach-complexioned with silky, red tinted, dirty-blonde curls, my sister said, “Everybody will think you’re Dominican or Puerto Rican.” And, despite the fact that my daughter has been in our lives for almost four years, last winter when we saw a single white father on the Steve Harvey Show, with his sons who have reddish dark brown complexions and straight, dark hair, my grandmother said, “These boys are Indian or Mexican, I guess he adopted them.” I was deflated by my grandmother’s first assumption that this family was not biologically related.

Janet hangs with mommy 3rd birthday (2)- for articles

I am thankful that there are people from many Latin American nations who, so far, have consistently recognized that I am my daughter’s mother. Their insight is like a warm blanket of welcome in an environment where I have grown accustomed to the coldness of other responses. I look forward to the day that people of all backgrounds in the United States understand, and see as normal, biological parents and children with incredibly diverse physical traits.

Omilaju Miranda

Omilaju Miranda

Omilaju Miranda is a creative writer and book reviewer for the forthcoming (March 2014) nonprofit book review page Mixed Diversity Children’s Book Reviews www.MixedDiversityReads.org and the Facebook page Mixed Families, Single Parents, LGBT Parents Read And Raise Healthy Children https://www.facebook.com/singleparentsmixedfamiliesreadandraise. Most importantly, Omilaju is the mother of a Mixed Heritage daughter for whom she would like the world to be a place of social acceptance, understanding, and peace. See more articles by this author >