My wife and I have one son who is “other”, another who is “white”, and a daughter who is “Latina.”
At least that’s how the schools classify them.
We don’t bother to change this classification because it really doesn’t matter. On top of that, we actually think it’s hilarious.
I was always excited when our children were born not only because of the promise and pride they have brought to my life but also to see which genes they received from the diverse background my wife and I brought to the gene pool.
Our family is an incredible mélange of African-American, white, Jewish, English, Canadian, Native Americans and more. Our family tree features redheads, blue-eyed blondes, brown-eyed brunettes and dark-eyed people with “black” hair.
As the child of an interracial marriage (and born in the early 1960s when those marriages were illegal in parts of the country) I know what it’s like to grow up when you don’t fit neatly into columns and classifications.
I was sitting next to my father enrolling in 7th grade when the school secretary asked my father if I was his natural child. Without raising his voice or showing anger, my father (in a very Clint Eastwood way) said, “Yes, he is.” When I was in high school, a fellow teenager asked me, “Why do you speak all proper and s*%t?” I have watched people stare at me as they tried to get to the courage to ask me, “What are you?” Incidentally, it’s that same question my children get asked even today.
So, I was shocked but not surprised when some loud and ignorant people on social media had such an ugly reaction to our new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, who happens to be of Indian-American ancestry.
I won’t quote the outrageous comments that flew from some of her fellow Americans in the “social sphere” but they were most definitely not social. I’m proud to say she’s Miss America. Diversity is something we should embrace — it is not embarrassing.
The episode echoes the reaction of some when entertainer Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” at Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. Anthony was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents. By the way, Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory. In spite of this fact, some people were upset that a Latino sang “God Bless America” at a baseball game.
The whole episode brings up a question: What does it mean to be American?
Well, I believe there are only a few requirements to be American:
Be born in the U.S., certain territories or outlying possessions of the U.S. and subject to U.S. jurisdiction; be born to parents who were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth; apply for “derived” or “acquired” citizenship through parents; or apply for naturalization.
Nina Davuluri and Marc Anthony pass the test. They are American.
There’s no doubt the world has changed. We have a president with an African name who is of mixed-race heritage. The president and I have roots in the hills of South Central Kansas. His great grandparents and my grandparents are buried in the same cemetery. We are American, too.
Our country is now more complex than the country that is reflected in that set of little racial check-off boxes that you find on forms.
According to the 2011 data from the U.S. Census, the median age of non-Hispanic Whites living in the U.S. is 38.3. The median age of Hispanics living in the U.S. is 27. The AHAA says 65 percent of U.S. Hispanics are Millennials — aged 22 to 35.
America is getting younger and browner. Get used to it.
America looks like my children and me. I believe that’s a good thing for everyone.
(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE HUFFINGTON POST ON SEPT. 15, 2013)