What is your blended heritage?
My blended heritage is a combination of Greek, Irish, English, and Mexican. My mother is Greek-Irish and my father is English, possibly Jewish, and Mexican. I have yet to identify with the possible Jewish ethnicity until I have a DNA test.
Where are your mother and father from?
Both of my parents are from the U.S. My mother was raised in Reno, Nevada in a large Greek/Irish, Catholic household. My father is from East Los Angeles and grew up with a white mother and Mexican father. My dad is a light-skinned, blue eyed half Mexican, who experienced lost of identity problems growing up and that got passed on to us. He also comes from a large Catholic household with many biracial siblings, who actually all look very different from each other in terms of features and skin color.
What do you love the most of your blended heritage?
It is hard for me to say which one I’m most proud of because it really depends on the situation that I am in that brings forward my pride. I am proud of my strong, Greek features. On the exterior, I feel I look very Greek. I have freckles from my Irish side and light eyes, which draws people’s attention. I really love my light eyes. I don’t really like my freckles, but everyone else does. However, the blend of these two ethnicities gives me an exotic, unique look according to others. I don’t look “Mexican” because most people associate Mexican with looking indigenous. Those comments to me, however, show a lack of education and knowledge about the diversity within Mexico. I am very proud to have grown up with Mexican pride.
What is your response when people ask, “What are you?”
First, I get asked that almost every day. I generally say I’m Greek, Irish and Mexican. My mom was so proud of us being Greek/Irish and my father was very proud to be half-Mexican. I do not identify as white too often. I only will call myself white in settings with Latinos who are speaking Spanish and not including me in the conversation. I do this because I’m not bilingual, and my Spanish conversational skills are limited. I know tons about my Latino heritage and culture though, so I do get upset when I’m completely dismissed. My Latina girlfriends refer to me as Latina. That always feels good, but sometimes I feel like an imposter. Other times, I identify as Black-Irish, or as a Mediterranean person (which is a whole construct in my mind that I’m not sure other people identify with, but I do). I grew up marking Hispanic, Mexican-American, or Mixed on those ethnicity/race questions on standardized forms, but each time I filled in a bubble I felt confused and like I was cheating on other parts of myself.
What was your experience as a blended kid?
My experience as a blended kid was complicated. In fact, it is still very complicated. I never really knew where I fit in (and often still don’t) because of my last name. My last name is Rodriguez, so people would have assumptions about how I shout talk, act, think, or look like. My parents gave me an old Irish first name though (Brenna). They wanted me to carry pride for both sides of my culture. My middle name is Marie, after my maternal grandmother, Mary, and paternal great-grandmother, Maria.
In settings with Latinos, I’m often dismissed because of my looks and because of my language gap. Even though I have black hair, it’s my lighter skin and light eyes that throw Latinos off. Plus, my father never learned Spanish due to discrimination, so we lost the language. There is a whole family of Mexican people who don’t speak Spanish in L.A. due to the racism and discrimination that my father and his immediate family endured during the 50s and 60s. My whole life I have been trying to learn Spanish. I was even in Latino club all through high school trying to prove my cultural identity. For years, I have made a point to show pictures of my Mexican family members just to prove I’m not lying about my Mexican relatives.
As I grew up as a blended kid, I often laughed at the question “what are you?” I would sometimes try to see if they could guess. The most often response has been: Portuguese, Italian, Argentinian, or Jewish. When I tell them what I am, they say “oh that makes sense; I can totally see that now.” Then, most people make further comments about how I’m exotic looking or ethnic looking.
I did experience tremendous pride on both sides of my family. My mother’s side was very proud to be Greek-Americans way more than being Irish. I think it’s because they were dark skinned. My mother and her siblings are all dark-skinned Gr2eeks, but most of the children range in color. I would be teased for my light skin often by my uncles. To this day, I work on my color during the summer months, but I will say that my freckles make that job tricky. The skin color world is another interesting place to navigate around.
What bridged all my ethnicities together, however, was the Catholic faith. My mother comes from a huge Catholic family, which was introduced to my Greek side by the Irish side. My father comes from a large Catholic family, too. My father was an alter boy, and my maternal grandmother was a principal at a Catholic high-school. My father grew up with his little Mexican grandmother, who encouraged the faith upon my dad. He has cherished memories of her making fresh tortillas and frijoles daily and attending mass. My father was so proud of his culture and faith. My mother was also a proud Catholic. This was one place where I have found cultural identity: the Catholic rituals at mass. Despite the language, or country of origin, I at least had the faith I grew up in merging the two families.
What were you family dinners like?
My parents divorced when I was five, so dinners ended up being governed in two different ways. Dinner with my father included prayer and lots of food. It was very Mexican in this sense. My dad wanted us to be full. We always had tortillas available, hot sauce, jalapenos, and tons meat. I grew up eating a lot of Mexican food with my dad.
My mom cooked more Mediterranean cuisine and typical American food. My dad did teach her how to make enchiladas and she still makes my dad’s enchiladas even though they have been divorced for a long time. My mom served dinner more buffet style and did a lot of short order cooking because the man she remarried was a picky eater. This always upset me because I mainly grew up with my dad and dinner was familia time.
What positive message do you have for blended kids?
I recommend embracing all parts of your ethnicity. Try to see the fun in being different from everyone else. Be accepting of who you are; rather than, what you lack. Learn as much as you can from your elders about your history. Get a DNA test for fun one day. See yourself as the path of the future. As the world gets smaller, more people will be born of blended ethnicities and cultures. Do your best to navigate through your identity. Don’t let anyone tell you what you are or what you are not when it comes to your ethnicity, culture, or identity. I feel it is our choice how we label ourselves. Lastly, remember that you are a perfect combination of all your mixed ingredients.