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Editor’s note: Lendy Carias is an aide at Telamon Head Start, an early education and family support program in Siler City. She submitted this piece to La Voz de Chatham, a project supported by a Facebook Journalism Grant to the News + Record.
When I first met my husband, I assumed he was Hispanic. We first met at McDonald’s, where I worked part time while I was in high school. I remember telling him that I needed help at work. He didn’t say anything to me, and every time I asked him for help, he never responded. Finally, one day, he said to me, “I’m sorry. I don’t speak Spanish, only English.” I felt ashamed. “You look Hispanic,” I told him. He smiled at me and said, “No, I’m white and Black.” That’s when I apologized.
A few hours later that night, he sent me a friend request on Facebook. I accepted his request, and we began texting. I didn’t know what to say. My English was bad, and I was afraid to speak. So, I asked my little sister to help me. She used to read and translate my messages, but she eventually told me I needed to stop asking her because she didn’t want to get in trouble with her mom. So then I discovered Google Translate, and I used it to translate his messages.
I fell in love with him, but that was a big problem. My family wanted me to marry someone from my country or the same race as me. I didn’t agree with them. I thought and felt differently. I talked to them about my beliefs and told them that no matter what color we are, we are humans and we all have hearts and feelings. I remember telling my dad one day, “Dad, if you cut your skin with a knife, you will bleed red blood. If someone else — a white person or Black person — cuts their skin, their blood will be red as yours.” He didn’t say anything after that.
I told my boyfriend to come to my house and meet my family because that is what Latino families do. So, he came. I told my dad my boyfriend was outside and that he wanted to talk to him. My dad got angry with me and said, “I told you already that I don’t want you to date someone who isn’t our race.” Then he walked out the back door.
I felt bad for my boyfriend. I didn’t want to tell him that my family didn’t want me to be around him at all. They took my phone away to prevent me from communicating with him. But I used to have a library card, so I’d just go to the public library and use the computer there to communicate with him for an hour. I remember one day he went to the library to see me. My dad was in the Hispanic store (Tienda Loma Bonita), but I didn’t know he was there. He saw my boyfriend, and then he realized what was happening. He got mad at me that day, and I was punished.
When friends or relatives found out I was dating someone outside my race, they started to criticize and judge me. They didn’t focus on the fact that he is half white; they all focused on the fact that he was Black. They all tried to scare me by telling me that he wouldn’t take care of me, that he only wanted sex with me and that after he would leave me. They told me over and over again that Black people do drugs, so you should prepare for abuse physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. Black people are known to be lazy, they told me, and they don’t like to work. Every day seemed to bring a new negative comment.
I used to get angry at people about that. Hispanic people talk about racism in the United States and how they don’t accept us because we are Latinos. But there’s also a part of Latinos who are racist against Black people, while some white people are racist against Blacks and Latinos.
Why are people like that? I never understood that part. We all are God’s creations. We are the ones who focus on ethnicity. Why must we be like that? I know we aren’t perfect; we all make mistakes, but why do we not love each other as God’s creations? God requires us to love each other as we love him. As parents, that’s our job — to teach our children to love one another regardless of ethnicity or culture. That’s how I see it, but my family and some people in my community didn’t see it like that.
In June 2013, two days after my high school graduation, I left my parents’ house and moved in with my boyfriend’s family. I lost my family that day. My parents called me after I left and told me to forget that I have a mom or dad. For them I was dead, and if something bad happened, I couldn’t ever go back to their house because their door was closed to me. I was so sad and hurt. I was in a new country, and being with the love of my life meant I lost my family.
My boyfriend’s parents became my new family. Even though they didn’t know me, they opened the door to their hearts to me. I was in my boyfriend’s room most of the time. I didn’t feel comfortable going outside of it because I was afraid that his parents would talk to me and I wouldn’t be able to understand them since my English wasn’t perfect.
They always checked in on me to make sure that I was OK or to ask if I needed anything. They always were going to be there for me. They made me feel like I was part of their family, and I started seeing them as parents. Every time I said something wrong in English, they always corrected me gently and lovingly. That motivated me to learn and feel comfortable speaking English.
Six months later, my parents contacted me to apologize for the way they treated me and for all the things they said. They told me that no matter what I would always be their daughter. I was happy they decided to talk to me again, and I realized that it wasn’t their fault. My dad used to get mad because his friends would pick on him for having a Black son-in-law. All day at his job, he probably became stressed and embarrassed listening to his friends.
After that, I found out I was pregnant. People at my job used to pick on me. They made rude comments about my unborn child: “What are you going to do if you have a son and he wears his pants down? Are you going to put an earring on your son? I wonder what your baby’s hair will look like. What are you going to do if the baby doesn’t look like you or your family?” All those comments used to hurt me. I used to cry. It was my life, my family, my child. It was my decision, and I felt that they didn’t respect my life.
On May 3, 2014, my daughter was born. It was the best day of my life. I experienced motherhood and its greatest rewards. She brought so much happiness and joy to my life — and not only for me, but for my entire family on both sides. Her paternal and maternal grandparents also supported us.
It was hard for me to go out with my child because I felt I didn’t have privacy. People who used to know me and saw me in the grocery store with my baby would ask me crazy questions. They were rude and inquisitive. They questioned her skin color and other physical attributes. If she was wearing a hat, they moved it just to see if her hair was different from mine. Why must we live in a country in which people only care about our looks?
My little daughter, Faith, asked me many questions.
“Why do my granny and papa speak a different language than my other abuela?” she asked. Your granny and papa are from the United States while your abuela is from Guatemala, I told her, and I’m from Guatemala while your daddy is from the United States.
“Why do we all look different?” she asked. Because we are from different places and because God created us like that, I told her.
That’s when I told her to give me her hand. I let her touch my heart. Then I told her to touch her own and then her daddy’s.
“Did you feel that?” I asked her.
“Yes!” she said.
We all have hearts, I told her. We are all the same. It doesn’t matter how we look or which language we speak because we are all humans — God’s creation.
My daughter had one more question: “If my granny is white, and my papa is Black, and my daddy is white and Black, and you’re Hispanic, what color I am?”
“Baby,” I told her, “you are white, Black and Hispanic, and you always should be proud of what and who you are.”