race + gender + politics

Friday Reflection: Identity Through My Mother’s Eyes

October 15, 2010

A few days after I posted my Friday reflection, My Identity, my mother and I had a long talk about the post and my understanding of why I have a “disconnect” from my Mexican heritage and thus identify as Black. This apparently raised a lot of questions for my mom and she sent me the following in an email: “…but i did think about our Friday convo and really my mind is full of thoughts regarding my heritage, and lack of spanish language skills, etc, funny how i had never examined this aspect of who i am…” Imagine that. Certainly, my mother’s identity has in part shaped mine, yet she had never explored it to the same degree as I had. So, I asked my mom to write a companion piece on how her upbringing shaped her perceptions of herself and how her racial/cultural identity has shaped her and her children (i.e. moi). And so I present to you a word from mi mama


The issue of racial identity is an interesting one. Why does a person relate to one ethnic group over another? As a woman who has raised 2 biracial children (Mexican mother/Black fathers) it has been my impression that children take their cues from their mothers. How does my mom feel about my (black) dad? How does my mom feel about black people, black culture?

For me, born the child of 2 Mexican parents, both non-English speaking when they came to California from Texas, I was surrounded by a loving Mexican family, trying to assimilate into the “American” way. So only English was spoken in our home, and when we went to visit Grandma we were thrust into an environment where we did not speak the language and were not expected to. Who knew that being bi-lingual would come into fashion, and that being Mexican would not be a “curse” forever, as it was in the 1940’s & 50″s. For myself, I was happy being Mexican, it was easy, I looked Mexican, and while it did make me uncomfortable not being able to speak Spanish, I put that aside. As I grew older being Mexican grew harder because my parents were convinced that embracing the “white American way” was the only way for their offspring to be successful, so we moved into a predominately white neighborhood and the only Mexicans I had contact with were family who lived in another part of town and the ones bussed in from a nearby barrio, language remained an issue.

Now, I would probably say, I did not try hard enough to delve into my Mexican heritage, learning to speak Spanish and cultivating the customs within my family, so it is no surprise that my children view themselves as black, I could not impart what I had not cultivated in myself, and because I firmly believed that if you are part black, you are black (an idea widely held when I was growing up and one which I believed would hold them in a good place, when faced with prejudice). I, myself, never wanted to be white (though my husband swears Mexicans are white, but I maintain we are only white due to an act of congress, probably for districting purposes) and since my children would never pass for white, just as I had never passed as anything other than a person of color, I felt it best to begin the way you want to end… as a person of color… BLACK or BROWN. I loved their dark curly hair, their brown skin, just as I loved their fathers, madly and without end. If you are told you are beautiful from the inside out constantly from the time you are first held, you begin to get it, and if your mother asks nothing of you but to be a good person and an asset to humanity, what choice do you have? I did not get hung up on “light skin” or “good hair” or any of the silly things people can hang up on, I simply wanted my children to be all they could be, and that included the choice to be Mexican or Black or Blaxican or whatever, because the beauty of their position is that they could be whatever. I hope, in some way, this contributed to the way they see themselves, and perceive their places in the world. I regret we did not speak Spanish, and that I did not infuse more of the Mexican culture in them, but as i said, I could not give what I did not have. And being Black is a very good thing… 🙂

-Ma(dre) Dukes

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  • Reply Miss Patterson October 15, 2010 at 12:51 am

    Awww, Momma Gem. This was such a beautiful and insightful post. My favorite line was, “madly and without end.”
    You sound like a tender and nurturing mother and like you said, you could not give what you did not have. I will admit, upon first meeting Gemmie-poo, (my affectionate nickname for the fellow moon-ruled, unpredictable, Cancerian that is your daughter) that I was surprised she didn’t speak Spanish, but that’s only because my last home was LA. I made the assumption that since she was from Southern California that in addition to her Black expressions and colorful affect, that she was going to go off on me in Spanish one day, complete with a neck roll and a n*gga please. But alas, she did not. (yes, i know Gem. you just quit me.) She later explained to me that an equal immersion into Mexican culture was simply not her experience in San Diego. And that was that. However, I do wonder if she’ll have an immersion experience of her own as an adult.

    Even though both of my parents are black, I grew up around whites from 0-18, so my most intense immersion into peer-based black culture didn’t occur until I was an adult attending school in Atlanta. We all have dominant influences, and all of us have adapted to the culture that we identify with the most. I have a good friend who grew up in Southern California who is also bi-racial (mexican & german) and she had the opposite experience growing up because they just so happened to grow up in a more Mexican-influenced neighborhood. She can flow between Spanish and English so effortlessly that it will make your head spin.

    Even now as adults, it’s never too late to tap into uncharted waters. If you, Gemmie-poo, or anyone else reading this wants to delve into an unfamiliar culture that we feel even slightly removed from, we can. It’s all at our finger tips these days. Oh! By the way, I offered to help Gemmie to do her family tree, and this post seems like the perfect catalyst to get that project started. Let’s do it.
    Thanks, Momma Gem. I hope to meet you one day (even if Gemmie does quit me in 5, 4, 3, 2…)

    • Reply Gem of the Ocean October 15, 2010 at 9:32 am

      1st, thanks for being the first to show my mommy some love.

      2nd, saddown (re: “that she was going to go off on me in Spanish one day, complete with a neck roll and a n*gga please.”)

      3rd, thanks for offering to do the family tree. we’ve been talking about this for some time now but we need to really get on it!!! gotta be more action and less talk. black ppl and their dreams deferred *smh*

      4th, stop kissing up to my mother

      5th, leave it to you to be the long-winded commenter lol j/k (but only kinda)

  • Reply Ma (dre) Dukes October 15, 2010 at 1:51 am

    Miss Patterson, thank you for the comment, I agree, that one is never too old to discover more about themselves, and I do love introspection, especially when provoked by my children. I consider myself lucky, that I never succombed to the pressure of assimilation, but in doing that, I also moved further away from my Mexican heritage. Perhaps my DNA is not as it would seem…

    • Reply Gem of the Ocean October 15, 2010 at 9:33 am

      moms about to drop her “my father had an affair with a black woman” theory in 5, 4, 3, ….

  • Reply Gem of the Ocean October 15, 2010 at 9:28 am

    hmmmm 2 comments and neither from me. i feel like an underachieving child lol. oops.

    thanks for writing a post!!!!!! and a very insightful and heart-felt post i might add. im glad you and i have been able to have this discussion over the last week or so and its been a pleasure to hear and read your thoughts on the matter.

    im also thankful that you gave Big L and i the love and support we needed so that we didnt come out these tragic mulattos that ppl shake their heads at because they are “confused”. i thank you for teaching and allowing me to be comfortable in my own skin and embracing my genetic make-up. we have a beautiful and loving family and ive never felt weird or different or outcasted because of my mixed heritage. ive always been able to be me and that has made all the difference in the world.

    so… thanks!! and yes, being Black is a very good thing 🙂

  • Reply Wu Young Agent of M.E. October 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    This is a great post Gem! Props to you and Ma(dre) Dukes for some great insight into racial identity and being comfy in your own skins as an individual and as a parent.

    Once again, good read!


    • Reply Gem of the Ocean October 16, 2010 at 8:57 am

      hey, Wu, thanks so much for reading and commenting–my mother will be pleased!!! im glad you got something out of this, as it has certainly brought new light to my mother and i and sparked some really interesting convos.

  • Reply SDukez October 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    I cosign all the wonderful in this post. ^_^

    And amen, being black is a very very good thing. *boogies*

    Great post Ma(dre) Dukez of Gem. Lol


    • Reply Gem of the Ocean October 16, 2010 at 8:57 am

      sukes, you’re such a GEM!!! and i <3 you, lil sis *hugs*

      thanks for reading and commenting, doll 🙂

  • Reply L Boogie October 16, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    This post just made me 🙂 all over…it was a great read, and I loved it!

  • Reply BigHomieLou October 19, 2010 at 11:14 am

    As usual, Moms brings the real!! I appreciate all the love shown for her post. Good look Baby Sis, for posting it too. Now ya’ll know a little bit about why we are the way we are-although some elements are beyond explanation (LOL). I have a lot to say, but since GEM put someone on blast for a long post, I’ma leave it like that. Much love.

    -The Not-so-Tragic, but slightly confused, Eldest Brother

  • Reply *OnlyYolie* October 21, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Hi.. yes I’m really late and all that but this post touched me… I am also “Blatina” if you will but had practically the opposite upbringing. As a child of 2 immigrants my rearing was 100% foreign ALL the time… Although I went to school and was raised in Long Island New York… from the moment I woke up (then left for school then returned home) til the moment I went to sleep I actually wasn’t in America)… From the food-being made fun of in school for having real left over meals in a lunch box-, music, politics-my family was so removed from”American-ness”including but not exclusive to American politics, blackness in America up to American humor (black or white) that now I struggle no not struggle but stumble on occasion when trying to identify with my Black American brothers and sisters. It’s not my blackness that is in question as it is CLEARLY spoken on by family members & family friends with absolutely no regard to my thoughts or feelings, its my Black American-ness…. Now as an adult I try my best to balance and learn (without looking like I am learning of course) but I will say sometimes its hard… Thx for giving me a place to say my piece

    • Reply Ma (dre) Dukes October 22, 2010 at 11:41 am

      Dear Only Yolie, Relish your “differences” because not only are you blessed to be black, you are bi-lingual and bicultural…a double gift, struggle or stumble as you will, we all do, but savor the wonder of who you are…
      ma dukes

  • Reply Ed The Sports Fan November 3, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Tell Mama Gem Ed said hello…love this post.


  • Reply Ma (dre) Dukes November 4, 2010 at 3:38 pm


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