I’m a Half Puerto-Rican Girl from Virginia (hah!) and I’m “going there” Too!
In light of this tragedy-filled and sorrow-full week, I am hesitant to post this for fear of sounding flippant or just not sober enough. But fear silences, and I believe silence is complicity. These are conversations that need to happen. And keep happening. So I’m humbly offering my voice. Please talk back.
My friend Deidra is a brave woman. In her own quiet, chill, and kind way, she’s starting a movement of knee-knocking, Jesus-loving, hand-holding, diversity-embracing, hard-conversation-having, grace-like-a-river-giving women who are going there and committing to see unity become reality in the church of Jesus Christ.
And I figured it’s time I join them.
I’ve been going there in my head for years. I’ve even lived there. In fact, I’m the fruit of there. You see, my fair, Pennsylvania-country-girl mom and my dark, handsome, Brooklyn bred-Puerto Rican dad went there forty-seven years ago.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me. My own son is probably the biggest evidence of being from there. With his dark skin, full lips, and brown eyes, he hints the most at my Puerto Rican heritage.
The thing is, there
has been a part of me for so long I hardly realized it was a place. As I’ve read and been a part of discussions about ethnic diversity over the last year, I realize what a gift I was given to have been brought up in a multi-ethnic home.
Mami & Papi (Dad’s parents), Mom, my sister and me
My Hazard, Kentucky-country great grandparents (Mom’s grands) and us
I was exposed to a different language and heritage from day one. My memories of family gatherings with my aunts’ families, grandparents and extended relatives are rich, loud, full of food and words I didn’t understand.
In some ways my perspective feels naive. Confused. There is just a place that’s a part of me, and I find it hard to “get it.” Kind of like, “What’s the big deal?”
Of course, I’m not ignorant of prejudice and racism and its ugly stories. My father has a few stories of his own. The biggest is the one where my mom and dad eloped because her father was so prejudiced against Hispanics. My mom’s family didn’t even need to meet “the Puerto Rican” who had stolen their country daughter’s heart.
My dad. Looks threatening, huh?
It wasn’t until I was born that painful prejudices were laid aside and love for new life made a way for acceptance. I like to think I was part of that reconciliation, in my own baby-kinda way.
Me and the Puerto-Rican, aka Dad.
As I’ve contemplated my own experience and desire to really do my part in reconciliation (other than being born), the thing that stands out to me the most is embracing diversity. Creating it even. Contrived? I don’t think so. Intentional? You bet! When something’s broken, it takes an intentional effort to fix it.
I can’t claim any virtue in my mostly positive and accepting attitude toward other ethnicities. It came naturally because it was part of my experience, and any prejudice I’ve ever felt was toward those I was unfamiliar with.
Human nature tends toward what’s comfortable. In the absence of exposure and experience, segregated relationships begin to make sense.
I see this in my own children. My older three experienced a lot more of the Puerto Rican side of their heritage. When my grandparents passed away ten years ago, the family visits lessened. My youngest has never been in a roomful of loud, boisterous Puerto Rican relatives.
We also moved from the metropolitan DC area to the Shenandoah Valley and its country life four years ago. Our oldest two boys were the minority in their school of African Americans and Asians. Now on most days, my younger three boys don’t see people who aren’t white like them.
This has undeniably influenced their attitudes. And it makes me realize that what was a natural part of life and experience before, now has to be intentionally facilitated.
WHY GOING THERE IS SCARY
So when you’re a “white” woman, talking about things like diversity and racism can be a scary premise. It’s times like these when I wish my half-Puerto-Rican-ness was a little more evident. Honestly, I’d feel more legitimate if my skin tone was darker like my dad’s. (Is that okay to say?)
I haven’t been the victim of prejudice. I don’t know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of the color of my skin.
But I have known hate. I have been the victim of mean girls. It wasn’t my skin, but it was my glasses and big feet and whatever else provided fodder for the day. I’ve known the pain of rejection and ridicule from my peers for things I couldn’t change.
And I’ve known the power and healing of acceptance, affirmation, and friendship. I believe those are the starting points for this incredible journey.
Going there promises to be messy. I don’t care for mess, and I’m afraid of hurting someone. Of saying something that is offensive. Of sticking my foot in my mouth or worse unintentionally sticking my finger in someone’s eye.
But unity is worth any amount of embarrassment, misunderstanding, or “I’m sorry”s that I might have to offer.
Messy is okay because of grace. And a unified body of Christ will make our Father smile so big.
So let’s go!
I’m joining these brave women and friends who are “going there” and facilitating the conversation . . . Alia, Jennifer, Lisa-Jo, Crystal, & Kate. Their perspectives are well worth the read.
And Alia posted this yesterday: Kingdom Come. It’s one of the wisest responses I’ve read yet in the mess of this week. Her post captures the heart of God.