It was 1998 — the exact day has long been erased since — but the memory is still vivid in me. It was pouring rain outside. I was looking for a place to be my dwelling. After a few minutes searching for it all soaking wet I found a tiny little corner next to a trash bin.
I had just gotten out of primary school. Some kids saw me taking shelter and stopped playing in the rain and decided to join in. We all had the same mission. We were waiting for our parents to pick us up. After a long day, we just wanted the warmth of our homes and the tranquility of it. In my case, I was waiting for my mom. At the time she — a single parent — was working two jobs and she was almost late every day.
Back then, I was always the last one to leave the premises. Nothing enraged me more than this. Now, with hindsight, I acknowledge the sacrifices and challenges my mom took to provide for her two kids. Yet, back then I used to get seriously angry at her. Especially on rainy-gloomy cold days, when the wait seemed larger than life and longer than anything else.
One by one each kid started to depart the corner and I became more and more anxious as the night started to fall. At this point, I was already on the ground curled up. My legs were wearied and couldn’t take the insatiable wait any longer.
And then all of the sudden I descried her. She was coming towards me, loaded with supermarket bags. Her long brown hair sparkled in the distance. As she got closer she gave me her typical “I’m sorry look” with a sincere smile. I was thrilled to see her. I could see that she was relieved as well. As I started to stand up to approach her one kid yelled out “Hey I don’t think that is your mom” another one quickly added “are you blind? She is white”.
Suddenly, it hit me. I was being differentiated from my own mom. I was being given a label without my own consent. I was being defined by society. Even some innocent kids knew the distinguishable. I remember when I was younger having awkward encounters where my mom was asked inappropriately “Is he adopted?” She would address it jokingly as a champion every time: “Yes, he is. Is your brain adopted too?”.
At the time, people’s opinions and comments toward my race seemed like just plain ignorance or bluntness. I wonder if I was the ignorant one. Certainly, it would take me a long time before this episode of an outburst of reality to sink in, yet when I finally did years later –well in my adolescence- it was a bitter realization. I was a mix-raced individual. My path to identity was yet to be found.
It all became clearer as a teenager when I started doing plays at school and was invited to join a theater group. At the time I remember I couldn’t play big important roles because of the way I looked. Any lead role involving a high social status was off the plate for me. Period. No questions asked. My roles were typecast as the marginalized kid, the homeless boy, the foreigner adopted by a rich family, the troublemaker at school, the gang member. I was never going to win over this race dilemma.
I began to accept the fact that being a mix-raced individual was going to define my life, my career, my everything and there was not going to be a way that I could fight against it. I had to be the role-model and the good example if I wanted to go further in life. It was my duty to break the canon. I’ve always identified my ethnic background as a cocktail of cultures. I’m the result of a multiracial relationship. My mom has Spanish and Italian ancestry. My father Venezuelan and Lebanese. Albeit, my authentic self is a combination of a vast array of life experiences too.
It is interesting to see how often the narrative around identity is conceived and portrayed. A belief that is imposed, framed by society. A social construct. Usually with a standardization of race. Nothing could be further from reality. Identity flows and it shapes in every person differently. That’s what is magical about it, its fluidity. Identity reflects on each person traits and lived experiences. It’s a flourished gain that contrasts with the distorted representation usually seen on the media.
Labels to minorities are vulnerable to change. Today you can be an example or even ignored with indifference, tomorrow you could become the enemy. Remember when Islam was just another religion from the bunch?
Never before I’ve been so scared to look the way I do. Over the past year, a strange feeling has invaded me when receiving indiscreet gazes while traveling. This year alone I’ve been stopped interrogated and racially profiled several times while traveling around Europe, more times than in the last five years. I have been questioned, extreme-vetted and unfairly treated. My fault? Looking “Muslim” enough to trigger ridiculous antiterrorism protocols. These outrageous experiences would dig out my long forgotten dilemma on identity. The ones I thought I overcame a long time ago.
Before you can prove that you are a good immigrant, you are by default: a bad one. A suspicious individual, a parasite ready to live off welfare and an opportunist ready to snatch jobs intended for locals. The majority of these issues come from fear of the unknown. It is understandable to be afraid of somebody from another race. I believe is a human instinct. An untreated sentiment, not even civilization has been able to remove out of our system. It is beyond one’s understanding that in a world so globalized and deeply internationalized some individuals might still have antiquated mindsets toward immigrants.
Long are the days where races were being ogled in twisted human zoos at international expos for the pleasure of the white elite. Still, some xenophobes would rather be skinned alive than give shelter to a human being fleeing from war. Sounds extreme, but I’m pretty sure reality overcomes fiction.
In a planet where merchandise can travel freely around the globe, it is shocking to think we are erecting borders to keep humans away. It is OK to trade merchandise, policies, and technology, but it’s appalling to provide shelter and asylum to those desperately seeking it, to those who suffer because of our own failed political strategies.
I’m sorry but, it is nauseating to believe that there are people out there against the idea of giving a kind hand to a child. That there are people willing to support politicians and policies aimed to turn backs to families and women running away from extremism, disastrous regimes, from authoritarianism, literally, from hell. Unfortunately, fear is the current emotion that rules the world. In the past year, we’ve all seen the damages and the heartbreaking consequences of hate speech, the raise in the nationalistic discourse around America and Eastern Europe.
The support of bigoted leaders like Donald Trump, and the steady rise of right-wing extremist parties in Europe a. I can’t help but wonder, how many innocent people still need to be ostracized until we could finally achieve equality? how many children will be separated from their parents before it’s too late? how can we unite our efforts and our strengths strategically to fight back hate, inequality, bigotry and ignorance?
As human beings, we all want to be in a safe place. We want to thrive, to achieve meaningful things, to live a decent, peaceful life. To make a sustained impact, to contribute, to coexist, to be part of a community where one can show its true potential and self. We all want freedom, love, kindness, and support. It’s time to change our narrative and become citizens of the earth, of the world as one race. That’s what we are. We should be all fighting against oppression, authoritarianism, and ignorance. There must be no place for hatred or bigotry in our society. Patriotism within the confines of conservationism has no place in today’s world, its vision is not only overrated but stupidly unnecessary. Love, solidarity, and truth will always win and must be, and should become our common language and narrative.
I’m proud to stand as a citizen of the world. Are you with me?