Friday, January 11, 2013

Family History

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(note that everything below is pretty much coming straight from my mother. Everything below that's in italics is me.)

I'm pretty sure that was the first time mom actually told me about the day she moved to the US. She said it was hot and humid that day when she stepped off the plane. It was over 100 degrees and more humid and sticky than she had ever experienced. (I thought that was weird, because that's what I've been told to think of when I think of South America and rainforest regions, but she said it wasn't like that.) She said the stench and the tall, dirty buildings [in NYC] made her want to go back.

Also, I managed to get a straightforward conversation about race politics in Guyana. (Keep in mind that most of this is about the 70s and 80s and my mom was a teenager. I don't know if she knows how things are right now. We have relatives there but I doubt they discuss such things on the few occasions where we hear from them, and the internet only tells me so much.) She was categorized as "dougla" because she's mixed - a Guyanese person of African and Indian/South Asian descent. It's a racial category that's non-hereditary and is based on appearance more than just ethnic background. And apparently it's now considered a slur kind of...? Not surprising. It's just like "coloured or quadroon or octoroon," she said. And that's why sometimes Guyanese people identify as West Indian - because while they're not technically West Indian, they have a lot in common both culturally and ethnically with people in Trinidad and other West Indian countries.

Her mom is really light-skinned and was considered Portuguese, almost white, even though she's part Black. (I forgot exactly what mom said. Close enough. Grandma is super light skinned and while I've recently learned that her natural hair color is actually black, for as long as I can remember she had reddish-blonde hair.) Which explains why Grandma is about as bad as any USian white racist her age :-\ Colorism is apparently a huge part of their categorization. Not surprised. I'd read about it in Brazil (and of course in the US), but it's the first time I've really had an opportunity to hear such a detailed first-hand account from and about my own family.

I just wanted to write this down so I could think about it later and compare it to ... I'm reading Bonilla-Silva again and he got me thinking about my own history in relation to everything else I've learned. (Though really, when am I never not these days... It's like I'm trying to rebuild my identity from scratch, you know? Take away all the internalized hatred, and who or what is left? Is there anything I could learn to fill in the pieces?) Yeah... I have a lot of thinking to do.

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