By Nikki Igbo
In preschool, I remember a group of boys telling me that I couldn’t play with them because they claimed that girls don’t perspire. Apparently, my ability to throw and kick a ball was contingent upon the strength and potency of my sweat glands. In junior high, my reluctance to sneak alcohol to school in a baby bottle and go to third base with boys got me un-invited to several girls’ slumber parties. Somehow, I feel these events influenced my androgynous haircut.
In kindergarten, I was referred to as “The Burnt One.” In high school, I was called, “Chocolate.” Later on in my career, my coworkers described me as well-spoken, reliable, a real team player. That was code for, “She looks different but she’s one of us.” Being the singular black face in a multitude of white ones is a familiar discomfort like chronic lower back pain; I am acutely aware but I make do.
At Xavier University of Louisiana, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in New Orleans, I was called a Californian or West Coaster as if I was some exotic model of an African-American. On good days, I was described as a freethinker. On bad days, I was labeled as an Oreo. Either way, my blackness was viewed as only skin deep. I pronounced all of my “-ers” and “-ings.” I wasn’t interested in pledging any of the black sororities. I didn’t wear dashikis. I wasn’t considered one of my own and it was heartbreaking.
I returned to the West Coast to finish my Bachelor’s degree. In Southern California, I was a Northern Californian. At my Orange County school, I was a Los Angeles County dweller. When I volunteered with the Sierra Club, my aunt labeled me a tree-hugger. When I volunteered with the NAACP, my other aunt called me a militant. When I returned to Vallejo with my completed degree, some friends told me I was “high sadity.” Others were proud. More than anything else, I felt confused.
Today, I pass through different states of being as if I were driving through Bay Area microclimates. I dress myself for all kinds of weather. The fog of being misunderstood by whites. The snow flurries of rejection by blacks. The sticky humidity of not quite fitting in with guys. The overcast of being an outsider with ladies. The stinging rain of being castigated by less fortunate. The westerly gusts of contempt by privileged. All I want to do is rest somewhere in the sunshine, some place where I can feel like I belong. Oddly enough, that place in the sun is with my Nigerian husband. He refers to me as American.
By Jonathan O’Connor
Creo que en la mayoría de los casos yo soy minoría.
My mother tried to teach me Spanish when I was five. I just started kindergarten and saw the other Hispanic kids getting made fun of. When I got home she asked me how school was, “¿Cómo te fue en el colegio?” I wasn’t having it. I knew what learning Spanish meant. It meant being different, being less than. I decided to hide my Hispanic side and accept my American side. The trouble was that I wasn’t being authentic, but only I knew.
It has always been pretty easy to pass with a last name like O’Connor. People never know I’m bicultural. They assume I’m a good old Irish boy.
At a casual dinner party the offensive guy who doesn’t know my mom is an immigrant, “Why should my taxes be paying for those wetbacks? They should all just stay in their own country.”
At a tequila bar the Hispanic staff that doesn’t realize I’m one of them and tries to charge my table more says, “Cobreles doble por la cerveza. No se darán cuenta.“
At my birthday party my mom says, “Jonathan, the cake está aquí. Are you ready to blow out las velitas de cumpleaños?” And then my friend says, “Wait, that’s your mom? You’re Spanish?”
In Atlanta, I’m a Northerner among Southerners. In Connecticut, I’m lower-middle class within a sea of affluence. In Colombia, I’m el Americano within my own family. But these things are all superficial.
Being bicultural is kind of like being an invisible minority. There are many ways to be a minority, and if we’re being honest, the majority of them aren’t things that can be easily seen. Yo se que hay personas que me comprenden.
We all have things we struggle with, but some struggles are kept on the inside. My internal struggle made me believe I was a minority, that I was the only person to experience whatever identity crisis I was going through. As an invisible minorities, I was silent. I suffered alone.
¿Qué pasaría si supiéramos el interior de una persona? Qué pasaría si los comprendiéramos? What if we knew what was going on inside of a person? What if we could understand them?
Would they be a minority anymore?
No two people are exactly the same. Things on the outside, physical things like our appearance, race and sex can divide us. They can make us feel like minorities, but they bind us too. They create groups of people who we know understand us, groups that we can escape to after feeling isolated. In this escape, people both segregate and free themselves from the society around them, moving from the individual experience to the self-segregation of group isolation. This movement, however, also provides a safe space, a space that makes us feel like we are a part of something. This is something invisible minorities do not have.
Invisible minorities make it harder on themselves. They do not think they have a group to escape to. Their isolation is experienced alone, but it doesn’t have to be. Although my situation is unique to me, the feeling of the experience is universal. The unfortunate truth is that most of have felt like a minority at one time or another. When it happened to me, I didn’t realize that others knew how I felt, others had also been an invisible minority. On the outside, we may be different, but on the inside we all have something to deal with. In a way, that makes us part of a much greater, unspoken, majority.