Monday, September 3, 2012

What Are You?


I look in the mirror and I see new lines near my eyes and I see my cousins and my mom and my grandfather.

Since I was small, strangers have been compelled to ask me, "What are you?" They're not questioning my gender or what I do for a living. I know what they're asking. They want to know where my people are from. They want to know why I look like this, a little bit other, like I'm from somewhere else.

They try to guess. Are you part Japanese? Chinese? Korean? I thought you were half Thai or maybe Icelandic? They will speak Italian to me or French. The guesses are never right. How could they be? The answer is complicated.

My people are Spaniards and Basques that landed in New Mexico. They are dirt floors and sopapillas and riding a mule to school. They are Texans and Swedes and Irishmen. They are a tintype family photo in their best outfits and kids with no shoes. They are farmers and potters and bootleggers and plumbers. They are Virginians and Brits and politicians. They are on ships and on horseback and riding in beds of pick-up trucks. The are Okies and oil fields and cooks and bridge builders. They are Mescalero Apaches and grandparents and orphans and wash on the line.

They are out loud and they are secrets and they are all mine.

I answer, "Irish on one side, Indian on the other." That satisfies their curiosity. Some will even say, "I thought so." But I know they didn't.


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Today I have linked up to my friend Heather's site at Just Write.

39 comments:

  1. Ah, to be American! If your people have been here for a few generations, it means that if you were a dog, you'd be a mutt. (Me, too.)

    All the time, people think I'm either Russian or Polish -- especially Russians and Poles seem to think this. But I haven't got a drop of blood from either; I just have "that look."

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  2. Yes!! I have a less interesting answer when it happens to me. I'm often asked, "What are you," followed by, "But like are you regular black or from somewhere?" I have since learned that "from somewhere" can mean (but is not limited to) Trinidad, Ethiopia, the Dominican Republic, Belize, or something--anything--other than " Los Angeles by way of Alabama."

    The other good part is that the only people who ever ask me this are "regular black"--just like me! Ha!

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    1. You are regular gorgeous. There's your answer.

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  3. That is so well written.

    An answer, which isn't an answer, which makes it a perfect answer.

    Perhaps, in ten generations, all Americans will look like you.

    We can hope.

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  4. Few of us are just one thing or another, but you describe the quilt so beautifully.

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  5. I knew it! I knew all along what you were!


    You are LOVELY.

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  6. People are always dying to know.

    I get the "are you Greek?" one the most.

    After that, it's "You look just like Celine Dion!"

    Lovely, Lisa.

    xo

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    1. Yes, Alexandra. You are exotic. And so beautiful!
      xoxo

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  7. You know what? I've never wondered what you "are." I have always just thought, "she's so beautiful."
    Which summed it up nicely in my mind.

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  8. I hate the question, 'what are you' but this is a great answer. You are a beautiful person and that is awesome.

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  9. This was beautiful Lisa. Just like you.

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  10. What a gorgeous post, as always.

    XOXO

    A.

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  11. Wonderful. You are BRINGING it lately.

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  12. What a beautiful way to answer that. I am especially intrigued by the Basque as that is such an interesting and unique heritage, the original "aboriginal" Europeans before the indo-europeans came and swarmed the place. I have a friend who thought all her life she was Swedish and then found out (due to a Grandparent's deathbed "confession") she's Sami - not the same thing at all. Explains why her kids all look so interesting.

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  13. Please let this be the first few paragraphs to the beginning of the novel you are going to write. Beautiful. I loved every word.

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  14. Ahhh I never made the Bjork connection until I saw the word Icelandic. Lol!
    I get this too, but it varies geographically. On the west coast, I'm clearly Mexican. Back east, what a friggin Italian! Hey ohhh!
    In reality, Polish and Irish. People actually accuse me of lying too.... Hilarious!

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  15. Ahhh I never made the Bjork connection until I saw the word Icelandic. Lol!
    I get this too, but it varies geographically. On the west coast, I'm clearly Mexican. Back east, what a friggin Italian! Hey ohhh!
    In reality, Polish and Irish. People actually accuse me of lying too.... Hilarious!

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  16. You forgot "stunning."

    The words too.

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  17. This reminds me of the writing exercise first begun after George Ella Lyons published "Where I'm From." The cadence is pitch perfect. The words so full of lives long past and all part of who you are. I love that you know all of these bits and pieces of your family. An amazing piece of prose, Lisa.

    (The one thing I'd like to write before I close down my blog is just beyond my grasp. I've been searching for answers to who I am and where I'm from for awhile and I still haven't figured it out.)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Cheryl.

      Having the words just out of reach - I think that's a sign you need to keep the blog going...

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  18. I remember the bridge builder. He was a good guy.

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  19. i was gonna say the 'stunning" comment! did I miss the "why smacksy?" answer??

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    1. That answer is buried deep in smacksy history... http://www.smacksy.com/2009/11/name-of-smacksy.html

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