Wow! In Curacao I am a mommy. As a brown mother of a white baby in the United States, I often get mistaken for being the nanny. Such a statement may sound a bit odd to some of you; but that is the state of affairs of racial identification or rather assignment by others. When there is racial ambiguity, the situation becomes infused with an overriding question: what are you? (or where are you from?). Dropping my son off at pre-school during his fist few months there created a racially ambiguous situation for the adults-both fellow parents and teachers (not for the kids cause they really don’t care about that stuff for the first few years of their lives). For a while, it actually seemed like my son’s preschool could not differentiate between me and our nanny since were both brown women. The brownness just kinds of threw them-sort of like when I first started to eat brown rice when I was so used to my yellow-sazon infused rice. Furthermore, people at playgrounds give me the one- eyed peripheral look trying to figure out who I am in relation to the little white boy I chase around. This is partly why I often don’t like going to the playground (besides the fact that I still haven’t warmed up entirely to other kids and I kind of think seven year old kids are evil).
Before, I go any further let me just state there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being called a nanny. It’s just that I’m his mommy. I labored hard for that honor (well, just 12 minutes of actual labor but nine months of morning sickness counts for something, no?). Once people in the United States figure out I am the mommy they put on perplexed looks which I, in return, just don’t get. Um “hello” Haven’t they seen Nicole Ritchie, (that was an intended pun..if you dont get it, well google is your friend).
According to the 2010 census, mixed race heterosexual couples in the United States constitute 18% and mixed race gay couples constitute 21% (topic for a future post for sure). It’s hard to fathom that it was 43 years ago when interracial marriages were finally legal. But let’s not even talk about the state of Alabama and its recent issues with interracial marriages, proms etc. So, we still have some things to work out at the local levels. My husband and I once went into a restaurant in the eastern shore of Maryland and everyone turned our way and just blatantly stared. We weren’t seated for a long long time. In western Pennsylvania, we’ve been seated in empty back rooms of restaurants and people have outright noted ” you’re not from these parts, now are you?” When we travel cross country on our route 80 road trip through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming (where a hotel claimed to have “klan” rooms), Utah, and Nevada we are the showstoppers.
So going back to my opening statement-I’m loving my mommyhood in Curacao. We did a road trip through the country of Curacao – its like only 50 miles across the island so a cross country road trip may not seem impressive but it was still fairly cool- and at no point did we feel like the traveling circus freak show we are often made to feel like in the US. We stopped at Carmabi (part of National Park Christoffel), Westpunt, Lagun Beach and we were just another regular family in the midst of a variety of families. By the way, cool juxtaposition of desert like terrain and beautiful warm waters pounding kind-of-spooky caves. Throughout the road trip no one stopped and stared asking what are you or who are you? Well, at one point they did because I was wearing jeans on the beach and was seating up a storm- Don’t ask…
Yesterday, while at Cafe Plein in Wilemstad, there were three interracial couples in our immediate seating area. When the waitress first came to serve us she brought over the Dutch menu and was surprised when we spoke English. I since learned we get better service if I speak in Spanish. When we were on our ostrich safari tour there was a Dutch family where the little white boy had a brown mommy. Coolness! We were immediately mommies with no other assignation. My son and her son became best friends in a New York second. It was a nice sense of camaraderie. Our tour guide was of this caramel shade that helped us blend right in along with his fluid ability to converse seamlessly in Dutch and in English.
The mixed race, blended families that we have come across during our stay in Curacao are both from Curacao and foreign, albeit not generally from the United States. We happen to have met many mixed race Dutch families, but we also saw many mixed South Americans. It seems Curacao serves as an interracial mecca of the world. For someone like me, who within her home forgets her ethnicity, Curacao has made me hyper aware of race in a utopian kind of way. With Obama’s presidency, along with a hyped-up rise in the percentage of mixed race couples in the United States we are supposed to be “post-racial”. I don’t really get that term as its more of a sociological term and I’m a psychologist (say I tongue in cheek). But I can tell you the “nanny” designation is not post-racial -it almost seems pre-racial (ok, STAT someone tell me what I meant by that). I will leave Curacao with a minimum of 26 bug bites itching the hell out of me. But I also leave with a renewed sense of where the world may be going. Inter-racial couples are still very much in the minority but maybe this tiny island nation can take a leading role in the world’s inter-racial Olympics.