Hispanics/Latinos · jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism · teaching

My Fan Letter to Mocha Momma On Being Black (and more I added later)

This is in response to this fantastic post, “On Being Black” that makes me wish all good bloggers got paid! The photo below was taken from Mocha Momma‘s awesome blog.

Dear Mocha Momma: (Click there and read her cool bio!)

A friend just pointed me to your blog. I guess something about my latest post, told her that if I wasn’t reading your blog I should be reading it. I just finished reading a letter from a friend telling me that as a mixed person, he has always felt out of place. Even more so as a mixed race person in the Jewish community, which we both are. We stand out like, well, what’s the opposite of a bright light? A black light? A yellowy-orange-y light? It depends on how we got mixed and on who’s looking at us that day.

Anyway, I tweeted, Facebooked on my private profile (sorry, not open to fans), wrote on my Facebook fan page about your post “On Being Black.” I loved the photo of you and your Dad. For legal reasons, because I have the kind of parents who would sue me though I don’t have a cent to my name, I don’t post photos of my parents but I can tell you that whenever anyone sees a photo of my parents their mouths drop open and then they look at me and look at them and look back at me. 

Well, first thing’s first, as any loyal reader knows, I come from a long line of hot Latino people. Some of them mixed, some of them not. But in any photo my parents star, their combined hotness rating (inherited from their hot parents) is often jaw-dropping. 

“Wow, you’re Dad’s really white. I mean, like he’s REALLY WHITE.” 

(We’re Dominican, Hispanic, but people forget that Hispanic doesn’t mean you are any particular skin color or race.) 

As I watch them survey my father (his side of the family swears I look like them as does my mother’s), I add to their shock by pointing out that my paternal grandfather was so white, they just called him “Blanco.” White. It wasn’t just the color of his skin, it was the name everyone knew him by. I didn’t learn his real name until about 20 years after his death. A beautiful Jewish name. But anyway, I guess, it’s not just that I read Shakespeare for fun as a kid, before anyone ever thought to call me “white girl,” they were calling my Abuelo “White [man]”…only they meant it in a nicer way.

Then they look at my mom. “Wow, she’s MUCH darker than you.” 

(Trust me, she noticed. She remembered having me cut out from her but no one looked at the two of us and thought mother and daughter OBVIOUSLY. Yeah, and even with my Dad’s brother being an actual albino, I don’t think she thought she’d give birth to such a light-skinned little girl with almond eyes to boot. I looked like anyone BUT her. I looked Asian. I looked white. I “didn’t look Dominican.” She’d expected more of a mix but I sunburned (pathetically, she felt) like my father. I looked like them…though people still tell me I look like her! I think myself a lot of things but nowhere near as hot as Mami or Papi.

And anyway, given my mother’s own mixed feelings about being darker but still light-skinned, about being mixed race herself though she talked up the European part and pretended everything else away, I can’t tell if she’d be happy I finally learned how to tan without passing out and even while wearing SPF 100 or if she still wishes people were still calling me Caspar, Snow White and “HEY, WHITE GIRL!!!” in that nasty way they did because they thought I didn’t look right or talk right, because she didn’t want me looking, acting or talking anything like those kids. 

When I was still healthy enough to teach, I loved being in the classroom and being able to say look at me, I look like you and better yet, look at everything I survived and still I am here standing before you today to tell you that you can survive, too. In fact, you can do better than survive. I was the first generation to get a college degree. The first to get a Master’s degree. My brilliant father finished his BA in Business and is now a businessman but I never got any benefit from it because he basically skipped out emotionally if not completely physically when I was 4, when my mom hit him so hard she hospitalized him and so when he asks today why my math is so bad, I tell him it’s because he was never there to help me with my homework. 

My definitely more brilliant, if sometimes criminally insanely brilliant, mother dropped out to take care of us and regretted every day I lived with her. All seventeen years before I ran away, I heard about how dropping out, having kids too young, having kids at all, had ruined her life. I know now why she dropped out, why she became a stay-at-home Mom for life. At least, I think I know so I can never tell her that why she did it, to protect us from what the horrors she had suffered as a child, unfortunately, didn’t keep us safe from all that she wishes it would and should have. It didn’t protect us from the person who hurt us most…HER. It didn’t protected us from all the other people who hurt us, too. The ones who hurt us right under her nose when we were too afraid to tell her and the ones who hurt us long after we’d run away from her, thinking nothing worst could happen to us.

But yeah, no way did my students expect some chick who looked like she was barely out of high school (I was 24 but looked somewhere around 17) with a Spanish last name to be teaching them English Lit. Was I lost? Was I sure I wasn’t the Spanish teacher? I actually did have plenty of people stop me every other day and ask if I was the Spanish teacher. I guess to them, I looked plenty Spanish enough. 

We had three Spanish teachers in our school: one was a white man with no Hispanic background but a penchant for bullfighting, another was an even lighter-than-me Puerto Rican girl from a family where everyone went Ivy League and the third was, well, what “a real Dominican looks like” I was told time and time again when I reminded everyone, including my students that I “really, really, really was 100% Dominican.” Well, as 100% Dominican as anyone can be. My favorite day was the day I was substitute teaching and all the students decided to rebel against “just another white teacher who hates us” (usually, I get “you look mixed” not “you look white”) until I read them the riot act and then had them hanging on my every word.

A substitute teacher once asked me to “GET AWAY FROM THE TEACHER’S DESK!” in front of a room full of my students who tried not to laugh as I explained THAT teacher’s desk was mine. I was luckier than you, lucky enough to get my own classroom right from the start and use my art school skills to plaster the room in such bright hues that when my 11th graders first say it, they said: “Is this the Special Ed room?” I didn’t expect to use it as a makeshift counseling center where my students came in to talk about being sexually abused by their brothers, being illegal immigrants, having abortions, abusive parents or having mothers or fathers who had died of AIDS. But I guess since I gave them the totally uncensored version of my childhood, I could only expect they’d feel comfortable sharing theirs. I never felt less out of place than I did in that classroom. 

I only survived two years of teaching before I became disabled and I doubt that was long enough to teach every single one of my students how to write a proper sentence, how to write the perfect five paragraph essay or even to really convince them that they could do what I had already done before them: survived what seemed impossible and do even better than my fore-bearers. 

I hope, like you, that I convinced my students that someone who looked like them and who came from where they came from could stand in front of a classroom someday to teach a language none of her grandparents spoke or stand in front of whatever room they wanted to lead or sit behind whatever desk they wanted sit behind or do whatever they REALLY wanted to do but were afraid would never happen because no matter what they’d been told for 11 or so years, I believed they were good enough and strong enough, even if I knew they had to work 100 times harder and do it on an empty stomach often with every G-dforsaken obstacle in the way. 

I told them what I still only half-believed barely making ends meet on my teacher’s salary…that hard work, luck, hope, ambition, sheer will, even on that perpetually empty belly, could propel them farther than they had ever imagined going. There are places as a child I thought I’d only ever see in books that I have gotten to see, touch, breathe in and I wanted that for each and every one of my students. I wanted them to go to all the places they thought they could never, would never, go.

And by the way, dear former students, if you are reading this, this is nowhere near a perfect five paragraph essay and you probably didn’t even notice that or all those conjunctions, run-on sentences and so on because even though everyone thought you were a lost cause when they handed you all to me, when I got sick, I knew that my hopes had not been misplaced. You weren’t straight A students but you were some of the best people I will ever meet on G-d’s great Earth. I will never forget how you held me up from my last December to my last June of my teaching career. I know you’re just glad I can type again, tie my shoelaces myself again and still tell those crazy stories you knew were so crazy they HAD to be true…even if well, my whole body still hurts now more than ever. 

I can still hear your prayers and I still have some of them saved, saved your letters wishing me good health, wishing me everything I wished for you and more. I’ve gotta (do not use this in a proper essay) believe that your prayers will get heard in the right place and make a difference.

Anyway, Mocha Momma, that was just a long-winded, long-winding way of saying “You rock!” (Remember, dear student, this is exactly how I told you NOT to write on the NY State English Regents exam.) 

Aliza Hausman
Writer, Blogger, Speaker, Rebbetzin-in-training-wheels
Website: http://www.alizahausman.net
Bio: http://sites.google.com/site/alizahausmansbio/
Portfolio: http://sites.google.com/site/alizahausmansportfolio/
Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/jewminicana
Twitter: http://http://www.twitter.com/jewminicana
For blog or press kit inquiries: alizahausmanblog@gmail.com
Watch me on the Jewish Channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suWNpeRSuKU
Orthodox Conversion Support group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/orthodoxconversionsupportgroup/join

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” (Nietzsche)…or at least makes a good story.” (Aliza)

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