When my youngest boy, Tyler, was an infant we used taxis to get around. Some taxi drivers are chatty. One afternoon I ducked into the cab of one such chatty driver with my baby boy on my lap. The man began with the usual questions of where I am from, how long we have been here, etc. Then he asked about my boy. Is he your son? Yes. Was he born here? Yes. Then the oddest thing happened. The opinion expressed with beaming pride had me scraping my jaw off the floor mat of the back seat of his car.
“Ah! So he is Bolivian! How good that he is improving the Bolivian race!” he nodded his head and looked once more at the light skin of my son through the crooked rear-view mirror. Personally I find that saddening.
In related news some years back Miss Bolivia commented, “It is wrong to assume that all Bolivians are short, poor Indians. In the tropical region I am from we are all tall, white and speak English.” She was ridiculed in the press and many shameful articles were published denouncing the racism that runs rampant in Bolivia. It never ceases to amaze me that in a nation with the land mass the size of Texas and the population comparable to that of New York City there is so much hatred between people groups. The Cambas have words to say about the Collas. Those of the Altiplano criticize those living in the Amazonian region. The light the dark. The European and the Native. Those who purely speak Castellano and those who speak a more ancient tongue. Not to mention the five major political parties ranging from Socialist to Autonomous. The divides run deep and dark, as I am sure they do in most lands.
Recently the issue of race was raised on my cousin Lynde’s blog: A Wordy Girl Mom ‘The R Word”. She and her husband are as caucasian as they come. Last year they were blessed to bring home a beautiful, vibrant daughter from Haiti. Their daughter is in Kindergarten this year. Amongst the multitude of adjustments to be made there have been some discussions that have arisen about race. Lynde addressed a few ways that they are teaching their girl about race. I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to talk about race in our family.
Here is one of the comments I left over there on her blog that got me to thinking about doing a dedicated post:
… I wonder why race is such a huge issue in the States, the supposed Melting Pot. Ever since my kids could be aware of stuff like that we have lived in Bolivia. This morning after reading your post I thought to myself, “Oh, I have never even fielded this race business with my kids. I wonder if they have been hurt or something by someone.” So I went immediately one by one and asked them if anyone had ever brought up the fact that they are a different color from their papa, that their mama and papa are different colors, etc. Nope. Not one. Raimy is 12, and the most sensitive, yet no one had ever brought that up with her. Maybe we are just generally “odd” in Bolivian eyes and so the race stuff gets lumped in with all the other stuff that sets us apart. I am very curious if when we come to the States [for a visit] in January if the race stuff will come up.
During the beautiful stages of coloring books and learning our colors when my three big ones were little I threw a question out there just to see how they would respond.
“What color are you?”
They looked at their arms for a while and then to each other. The corporate answer was finally, “We are skin color.” I told them that was great. Then I took it one step further, “What color is your papa?” They decided that he, too, was skin color just a little more brown than they are. “And me, what color am I?” They tell me I am skin color too, of course, but with a little more pink in it.
Since then we have had other talks not so much about race but about ethnicity. To fill you in, in case you did not know, my husband, DaRonn is African American. I am as white as all get out. Living in Bolivia has opened their eyes to the beautiful spectrum of humanity. To allow them to identify with their roots we let them play with some titles. Here is the way that they describe each member of our family.
Papa – African American
Mama – Caucasian American
Raimy, Timothy and Gabrielle – African Caucasian American
Tyler – African Caucasian Bolivian American
Kaitlynn – Bolivian American
I truly hope that this list does not offend anyone. We celebrate our African American roots. We enjoy the Caucasian influence in our lives. We revel in the tri-racial aspect that the Bolivian boy and girl bring to us. Then through it all we live in a hammock sway between the Northern hemisphere and the Southern hemisphere, knowing the rhythms, tastes, weather and speech of more than one place.
In the middle of it all I know in my heart that the culture rich existence we provide them will be to their benefit. Then the temporal worry wart whispers once in a while in me wondering if I am inflicting irreparable damage. Inevitably within minutes there come a reminder that it is ok in a hug around my neck, a Spanglish make-believe wafting to my ear, the feel of the brush in my hand as I style and shape hairs, or in the look in their eyes when they call me mama.
I think often about their futures. I wonder who they will choose to fill their hearts with. I imagine that the multi-cultural kaleidoscope will be one of my greatest treasures when I am old and wrinkly.
P.S. I didn’t plan on writing a 1,000 word post on this topic. Must’ve been important to me. :-)
EDIT: Since this is my 700th post I am going to take the liberty to add some irresistable charts. You know how I love my charts!
Racial Ethnicity Demographic comparisons in the U.S. 2008
Racial Ethnicity Demographic comparisons in Bolivia 2002