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Interracial New York: My Latino Neighbors See that I’m Her Mother

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 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.

15 thoughts on “Interracial New York: My Latino Neighbors See that I’m Her Mother

  • JocelynAdeleThomas

    I completely identify with this. when I gave birth I had hospital staff come from all departments to see “the white baby”. I am asked if I AM MIXED and if that’s why he’s “extra white”. I know in my new state I must be seen as the nanny as many privileged women in the area hire black or Hispanic child caregivers. my experience as a black woman has changed since becoming a black woman with a light baby. Colorism within my own race makes things equally difficult with the “he has GOOD hair” etc. I was even congratulated for choosing german genes as they are “stronger and more dominant”…….

    • JocelynAdeleThomas Jocelyn, I did not realize that was your experience although I am not surprised. I am glad that this door has opened for you to be comfortable sharing and discussing this topic. We as a United States culture have to get better. Right now, our families are cultural educators wherever we go.

  • luvlyrose

    Long as he loves you Be happy. Look at the love they made together

  • TanyaEdie

    Her Features are YOU#BEAUTIFUL!

  • WendydeOriginele

    In The Netherlands it won’t be special at all.. The Netherlands have so much cultures, that ain’t special. It’s logical that she’s your daughter would I say, If you were walking in Amsterdam. I’m surprissed that in New York it is. I thought they were much further then in The Netherlands. When I saw you walking, I would say: She is beautiful blended 🙂

  • GertrudeDoyle

    I have six children Im African (Liberian) my husband is white have three young biological children together…my oldest son is half Puerto Rican and my two in the middle are African American.We currently live in SC my children were born and raised here theyre ages are 9,8,5,4,2,and1yr old.I remember when my oldest son was around six months old some friends and I walked in a clothing store where the teller was a white woman I dont know if she thought that I kidnapped my son from someone because I was starred down like I was Jesus like she couldn’t believe her eyes then asked me if he was my son at the register and ended it with a hes beautiful but I know what she was thinking…that was my first awkward reaction then its usually stares from either from African American guys or some not ALL or older single late aged Caucasian men and women with a digust look on their faces…I am the biological mother of all six and very proud my children all resemble each other no matter how dark or light they are and we are very proud of all of them and though it may seem strange my husband stepped up and took care of each one even before marriage since day one of their birth till now and still is I love my family and I’m proud!

  • Trisha244

    I’m mixed race and my daughter is blonde hair blue eyed! I get mistaken for the nanny!

  • AntoniaMaslo

    I know how this young lady feels. I have a son that also mixed. He’s got light skin also. My husband is polish and I’m black. I’m a light skinned black lady. When my son was born a nurse told me she thought he was Italian until she saw I was his mom. People can be very ignorant because of skin color. It makes me mad when I have to deal with racist people.

  • PaulaJames

    That’s a beautiful story,for it seems the latin cultures have always been more open about accepting diversity,and that’s what I love about them.

  • kevinkambo

    Dont let ignorance and stereotypes interrupt the fact that you make beautiful family. Thanks for sharing.

  • BreannaNouveaux

    I am actually a little hesitant about this occurring when I have kids with my future husband. As a black woman, people always assume either single mother or nanny.

    • jewminicana

      BreannaNouveaux  It’s not just if you’re black. My friend’s father is Japanese and her mother is a Russian Jew. She looks Asian but her children with her Eastern European Jewish husband have red hair and blue eyes. She gets asked if she’s the nanny. But yes, I do notice that if you’re white, you’re more likely to get asked if you’re adopted. Given that my sisters (the darker one has a light-skinned, light haired blue-eyed child, the light-skinned one has a dark-skinned brunette with brown eyes) have kept up the family mixing, I am sure that my child will either be several shades darker or lighter than both of us and cause a stir in every place but my Dominican community.

  • jewminicana

    People thought that my mother was my nanny and that her mother wasn’t her mother and that before her. But as Dominicans, we’re used to not being matchy matchy. 🙂 We never known what the genetic lottery will put together!

  • jewminicana

    I spend most of my life being asked “What are you?” but when I go back to NYC (from LA), every Dominican person automatically recognizes that I am Dominican regardless of my skin color.

  • I find this shocking, I have never been questioned about either of my daughters ever….no one in the UK even questioned whether I am their mother.  I can’t believe this sort of nonsense is still happening in such a diverse city in NYC especially.

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