Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When You Don't Look "Right"

Today I'm gonna get a little personal, and on a topic lots of people shy away from for fear of offending people. I want to talk a little bit about race.

I'm posting this picture because many of you may not know I'm actually blond. This is my complete natural hair color with no dye—it was even lighter than this when I was a kid. I have green-blue eyes. I am very pale. By all counts and measures, I couldn't look much whiter.

And yet I'm Maori (the native Polynesian people of New Zealand).

And this is my family:

They all have dark hair. They all tan much better than I do. My mom has the wiry Polynesian hair of her heritage, as does my brother and one of my sisters. When my siblings say they're part Maori, people nod and say, "Yeah, I can see that."

When I say I'm part Maori? I've literally had people laugh in my face. I remember as a child, dressing up in my grandmother's traditional Maori dress for Halloween. The kids at school didn't believe I was part Polynesian because I didn't look like what they expect from the word "Polynesian." It made me feel...like a phony, like maybe I really wasn't.

And at the same time I knew my grandmother was from New Zealand. She sang in her local Polynesian choir. She had an accent. She could dance and spin poi balls. She would sing lullabies to me, and some of them were in Maori. We had this picture of our chieftain ancestor, face tattoos and all, who my mom would say over and over I was related to.

Still, I never felt like I was allowed to "claim" this part of my heritage. As much as I wanted to, my appearance made me...reluctant. I would get strange looks from other Polynesian kids, like, "You don't belong here, look at you. You can't understand because no one judges you." Which is true in a lot of ways. And on the other side, white kids thought I was trying to take advantage of claiming a different race. Or they just flat out didn't believe me.

The worst instance I can remember was in college. There was a guy in my church congregation who mentioned he was going to New Zealand for field work in his major. I excitedly said, "My grandmother is Maori! She was born there!" He gave me this look that made me want to crawl under a rock, and he said, "Yeah right." I insisted, but the more I did the less he believed me until I was practically in tears.

Because my grandmother meant everything to me, and so did her culture. The idea that I wasn't allowed to be that part of myself...it still hurts more than I like to admit. Culture goes so much deeper than appearance—and people often make the mistake of judging people to be a certain way based on what they see. And it is a helpless feeling, to be told you are one thing and one thing only just because you happen to look a certain way.

No instance of people laughing about my Maori claims ended with an apology—except this one I just recounted. When that guy came back from New Zealand, he apologized for not believing me. He said he could see the Maori in me now that he'd spent more time around them, and he was wrong to judge me that way. I appreciated that apology. Since then, one of my sisters told me another boy I went to high school with mentioned how bad he felt about laughing when I said I was Maori.

Still, it's hard for me to say it sometimes, because I never know how people will react. Even now I'm wondering whether or not I should post this, dreaming up the kind of backlash I might get. But I learned something in college, when my mom's cousin encouraged me to claim my heritage and work at the campus multicultural center. I felt like I didn't have a right to do that, but Uncle Vernon asked me how I thought my grandmother would feel if she knew I wasn't proudly saying I was Maori.

She'd be ticked, was the first thing I thought. She'd march into the office and yell at everyone while simultaneously giving them my lineage. And that would be mortifying, but it made me realize that whether or not I looked "right," this was where I came from and no one could take that from me. And I will teach my very blond children the exact same thing, so that when we video chat with their much more Polynesian-looking cousins in New Zealand they'll know they come from that place, too.

This is why race "issues" are important to me. It is why I try to include diversity in my novels, because everyone deserves to see some of themselves in fiction and to be respected. I may "write it wrong" sometimes, but I'd rather try than be accused of not including other cultures at all.


52 comments:

  1. You look adorable in your blondness. :) I have like 9 different ethnicities, including Hawaiian and Tahitian. I can pass as white, hispanic, polynesian, middle eastern, some people even think I'm Egyptian. I love this post because I feel the same way sometimes. My culture means a lot to me, and it sucks when people make me feel like I don't have a claim on it. I write a lot of ethnically diverse characters too. Thanks for sharing this, Natalie--you are not alone.

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  2. Great piece! It's strange how many people would actively not believe you, when America is obviously a melting pot of cultures...very strange indeed. But what can you do, besides ignore them? I'm sure a lot of them realize their mistake later, when they've had a chance to think.

    I <3 New Zealand. What a great culture to be part of! Have you visited?

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    1. Maya, I haven't been since I was very young. But I'm hoping to get over there soon now that two of my siblings live there!

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  3. I can't relate exactly...I have Cherokee and Portuguese blood but they are a few generations back. My dad and sister have the dark hair of my Cherokee ancestors but bright blue eyes. I've got quite a bit of a mix in me thanks to my dad's side who have been here since the 1600s but I definitely inherited the lighter hair and sharper nose of my mom's Eastern European ancestors.

    Learning about different cultures has always been a passion of mine and I love learning about people's family stories. Diversity makes the world a beautiful place!

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  4. Thanks so much for this post, Natalie. I'm mostly Irish, and I look it, but I've still had people make fun of me that I try to "claim" that part of my heritage, when culturally I'm so American. But I think it's a powerful human urge to want to know and be connected and "fit in" with your ancestors. I always find it fascinating to learn of others' heritages--a lot of which are surprising, but cool, I think.

    I need to include more diversity in my novels. I've shied away from it for fear of "doing it wrong," like you mentioned. But I like your attitude: better to try.

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  5. I am glad you choose not to simply "pass" as white and that you take up these matters in your fiction. I have an interracial family (I'm white and my adopted children are African American) and I tend to find myself including a lot of race-mixing in the families and heritages of my fictional characters too. It's a real part of world history (in my case, specifically U.S. American history, which I write about) that is often lost in our popular culture. Everyone is either one thing or another. But in reality we are all quite a mix. Those of us who understand the complexity of that need to help educate the rest of the the world about it--even accidentally through entertaining fiction.

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  6. My sister-in-law was actually born in Korea, but she's tall and blond like her dad. Her sister looks like their Korean mom, and people won't even believe she's related to them. If they'd look a little more closely, they'd see she has the same cheekbones and stuff, but those kind of people don't look. Her heritage is important to her, too.

    Thanks for this post!

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  7. Very insightful post, thanks! I am truly a mutt, myself: English, Irish, German, a dash of Native American, but mostly French. Hubby is mostly French, but also has some Polish in there. My family (when I've talked to them about our thoughts on future baby names seem to think it's weird to want French names for our children. They're not names that are too popular in America, but we both want our future children's names to reflect their heritage. It's frustrating. I totally sympathize.

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  8. Thank you for writing this, it's wonderful. I'm sorry you were on the receiving end of so many hurtful comments, but it doesn't surprise me; people say such insensitive things about race and heritage, many times not realize how offensive they are.

    I also feel compelled to include diversity in my writing, and it's my biggest fear that people will call me out for writing about another race or culture when I don't self-identify that way. I would never want to write some disingenuous, and because of that the burden is on me/us as writers to make sure we are representing another culture free of stereotypes, and overall to craft characters worth reading about. I'm so glad you posted this, it's inspiring to hear how proud you are of your heritage, and a reminder that we don't know a person's background unless we ask. (Nicely...)

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  9. I'm a Kiwi, too :) It'd be a lot easier for you living in NZ, because just about everyone seems to have some Maori heritage in there and we're totally used to the idea that some Maori faces are white (and plenty of other shades). Kapa Haka groups are usually a good mixed bag of people :) Being so far from "home" must add to it, but we're glad to claim you as one of us! :)

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    1. I love how friendly and sincere this comment is. It made me feel happy.

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  10. Speaking as a white latina, I understand feel this so hard. People tend to not believe or care when I talk about being latina. I carry a lot of white privilege, and I don't deny it. I haven't looked latin@ since I was a child, and I tend to shy away from latin@ spaces because I don't want to be seen as the person intruding when I haven't experienced as much discrimination as many POC have. And it can suck, because you know that you are, it's just how people perceive you.

    But what I have always thought, is if you are connected to the culture and to the history, it is a big part of you. Thank you for writing this.

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  11. I have a friend whose grandfather was adopted by a Polynesian family, and was very much culturally Polynesian. (My friend's middle name was Polynesian.) Another of her grandparents was Japanese. You'd never guess by looking at my friend. But why wouldn't you believe someone about their heritage? That's ridiculous.

    I grew up in a town that's about half Black and half white, and attended schools that were up to 90% Black. Obviously I'm not Black, but I'm very, very sensitive to race issues and familiar with the culture. I want to include that diversity in my novels (though many of them are in far less diverse settings), but I worry about people—especially people who aren't Black—assuming that it's a horrible, racist, etc., thing to do something as innocent as use the word "Black" to describe a character. Even in this comment, I'm almost hesitant to use the word "Black," like I don't have a right to, even though that's how many of my friends prefer to describe themselves. But nobody's offended by "African-American." (Hyphenated as an adjective; not as a noun.)

    On the other hand, AA isn't perfectly synonymous with Black. Like when I heard someone say they were in Germany and saw an African American in the airport. I was like, "Um, unless he got off the plane with you, you probably didn't." And we had a student in our school from South Africa (never would've guessed—he'd mastered the American accent after much teasing) who happened to be white. I think we all wanted him to fill out the race/ethnicity section as African American.

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  12. Thanks for sharing this, Natalie. My family of origin, as well as the one I formed, is an amalgam of cultures. My husband is Puerto Rican, and he's white, but guess what? There's people of many races in that little island. He loves his Puerto Rican heritage as I love my Argentine culture. Our daughter is an Irish dancer, and she has Irish in her too from her dad. When she mentions she loves Irish dance a lot of people wonder why. Imagine a Latina girl irish dancing. But I guess that part of her heritage speaks to her in a way that she identifies with. I always wanted my daughters to be Flamenco dancers... but Irish makes her happy and I'll support her 100%. :-)

    I also include diversity in my writing because my world is diverse, a rainbow of cultures and I love it.

    Funny story: once I entered one of my chapter on a contest, and a Latin family was portrayed. They had an English last name and were white. One of the judges told me it wasn't believable, that I should research before I wrote or even spend some time with a person of another culture. I guess he/she had no idea the world is indeed more "diverse" than we think.

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  13. My great-great grandmother was Cherokee and I was also born blonde and white as all get out. Our heritage is easy to see in some of my sisters (though one of my sisters clearly looks like our Scottish ancestors) and one of them in particular has that notable facial structure. She also has kind of a wandering nature. Still, you can't see any of that in me. I'm plain old vanilla. But even if I can't see it, it's in my blood.

    The Polynesian people are such an amazing people. They're selfless--the most selfless people I've ever known. You can casually mention a thing and they'll offer it to you without a second thought! They're excessively generous, happy, and fierce about family. Everything they do is centered around family and community. They're amazing! And if I haven't recognized the physical traits in you (which now that you mention it is more easily seen in your facial shape) I have always seen that same sort of selflessness, loyalty, and kindness. And in the end, that matters more than any exterior.

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  14. the ideas of cultural belonging and identity are so important ...and also so complicated to navigate in real life and in fiction.

    many people have said nasty things about immigration in front of me...not realizing that i'm a first-generation american. i do enjoy the looks on their faces once i tell them, though :)

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  15. I've only one culture to me, at least to my knowledge, but your post reminds me of the time I mistook a girl who was half-Indian for a "regular" white person and her dad corrected it. It was a simple mistake and taken as such, but it made me realise just how much we stereotype and how you can't always know where someone comes from. The idea of diversity here is particularly poignant.

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  16. When I filled out my son's ethnicity info for Kinder my half-Peruvian husband looked over my shoulder and said, "He's Hispanic. Fill in Hispanic." I guess he's right, but I've been filling in "White/Caucasian" whenever "White Hispanic" wasn't an option because my son is whiter than me...like for that reason, I couldn't claim his heritage. However, I'll make it a point to fill out "Hispanic" from now on. He is. Peru is his grandfather's country--even if his blonde hair and blue eyes don't look the part. (Too bad there is no "White Maori" to put a neat little check-mark next to on your forms.)

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  17. I know exactly how you feel. I am what I call a "Frohawk", that is part French (Quebec flavour) and part Mohawk. You would never guess I was Mohawk by looking at me - I look completely French, big nose and all, lol. But I also have pale skin and freckles, a hint of the Irish mixed way back with the Mohawk. Growing up on the Rez I never felt like I truly belonged because I didn't look Mohawk, but neither did a lot of my friends. When I went out into the real world I always hesitated to say where I was from for fear they wouldn't believe me (and a lot of other reasons - my Rez is famous for a lot of things, not all good). Even there I didn't belong. Yes I am part french but I never spent much time in that culture. I am Mohawk through and through but sometimes I'm not sure. Lol anyway I'll stop while it's short. Suffice to say i know how you feel.

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  18. Genetics can be weird. I know this family where half of the kids are blonde and blue-eyed, and the other half have dark complexions/brown hair/brown eyes. And they all come from the same two parents.

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  19. It took a double-take to realize that was you in the photograph. It's amazing how different something as common as hair color can make someone look!

    The scenario you describe is why I developed a habit as a child of looking at "pieces" of faces. I tend to notice things like bone structure and placement more than coloration, which is why I think I started drawing people - it really lets you examine how someone's face is put together. (It wouldn't surprise me if you do something similar, considering your drawings.) I don't think most people realize how much of their genetic history actually comes through in their bones as opposed to their skin.

    Oddly enough the people who can't look at me and see Apache or Comanche because of my coloring (I'll put my pasty skin up against yours in a pale-off and you might be surprised who wins...)can see that part of my heritage in black and white. We're ingrained to use tonal quality as one of the social markers by which we identify people, but if you take that (literally) out of the picture, the impressions change. It's astonishing, actually.

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  20. Love this post! The whole 'perception vs reality' question always fascinates me. My husband is a very dark Nigerian, yet our youngest is a very fair, green eyed, blonde. Despite appearances, he claims his African heritage more than anyone - as he's just turned 13, we'll have to see what the future brings.

    Race is always such a sticky subject, but conversations like this one are so needed.

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  21. You rock so hard! Thanks for posting this and sharing something so personal and so painful and so true. The more we talk the less mistakes are made in ignorance and silence.

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  22. This is why race "issues" are important to me. It is why I try to include diversity in my novels, because everyone deserves to see some of themselves in fiction and to be respected. I may "write it wrong" sometimes, but I'd rather try than be accused of not including other cultures at all.

    This really touched me I remember when I began querying (way to early to query cause I was a naive writer) a agent who rejected me told me my protagonist shouldn't be black because that will never sell and I should make main character Caucasian, this is for my first book a paranormal romance (vampires) I thought that would my first twist having a black main character in world of vampires and other creatures, sadly I fell into the doubt and made my main character biracial but used the conflict of her identity woven into the plot. Reading the last bit you wrote touched me because before a writer I am a reader and I love reading YA and many times I get a bit perturbed because the characters seem to share the same mold, blonde, brunette, beautiful, popular gets the guy by the second chapter zzzzzzzzzz so boring, race shouldn't be tricky unless perhaps a writer is writing about a tribe in Africa well that research will need plenty of effort like any other research that has real facts,to get it mostly right but an average teen of various ethnicity in North America in my opinion shouldn't be so hard to write in comparison to Caucasian characters. Natalie YOU ARE AWESOME!!!! Great post.

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  23. I love this because it's a clear example of why this issue shouldn't only exist to people with darker skin. This has been true my entire life and the "funny" part is that depending on who's looking at me, it's a different part of my heritage they don't believe. Because phenotype is king and someone else always thinks they have the right to decide for you.

    What *is* actually funny? When people assign my two sisters and I to three different races when we have the same mother and father. >.>

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  24. Claim that heritage! Your grandmother would be proud...and I think talking about it keeps that connection alive. Well done!

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  25. It's a shame people are still so ignorant about race. The actress Alexis Bledel had a lot of trouble with that. She is hispanic and was raised speaking Spanish in her home, but because she is so fair-skinned she said in an interview her fellow Latinas even rejected her, saying she was "white" and therefore should not call herself hispanic. With so much of our planet being of mixed race, people should be allowed to define their own ethnicity.

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  26. First and foremost, you are adorable in that top photo, Natalie!

    Second, I'm really glad you posted about this. Diversity and identity are such key issues -- for everyone, and especially for YA readers/writers -- and your experiences certainly add to the discussion in a productive and potentially eye-opening way.

    Third, I've actually posted about this topic too, but from the other side... It was a few years ago, when I first learned about Lisa See, who writes Asian-inspired fiction due to her family's heritage, but who also looks fairly white. (Link: http://kristanhoffman.com/2008/08/18/can-you-see-the-asian-ness/.) I *hope* I expressed my thoughts in a way that wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings... because the truth is, my skepticism had nothing to do with Lisa (or anyone else who doesn't look like their cultural heritage would suggest) and everything to do with my own insecurities and complicated, unresolved feelings about my heritage and identity.

    Anyway, people like you and Lisa See (who I later met and chatted with) have actually helped me feel more confident in claiming my own heritage, because I better understand that looks don't define us; experiences and relationships do.

    (Like your bond with your grandmother, or Lisa See's memories of her family store in Chinatown.)

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    1. Oh, I just want to add -- and this may be controversial... -- that I think there's a difference between how people identify on a personal/emotional level, and how they are classified on a technical/political level (meaning filling out forms or whatever). For example, if an African-American moves to China in 4th grade and then moves back to the US for senior year of high school, they might feel Chinese, but does that mean they should mark "Asian / Pacific Islander" on college applications? I don't necessarily have the definitive answer, I'm just saying I think it might be different.

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    2. Kristan, I love seeing your side, because I really understand why you'd feel that way. I *didn't* face some of the things that people who appear as the "standard" for a culture face. I know that in some ways I was "lucky" that I could blend in. But then that also makes me sad to think that should be "lucky," because that says a lot of not-so-great stuff about our culture.

      But at the same time, I have felt almost physically cut off from something I really care about. Barred, almost, based on the way I look. It's hard to explain. Instead of getting the "American among the Chinese, Chinese among the American" thing, I just flat out got "You are not allowed to be Polynesian."

      And growing up, people often thought I was my aunt's daughter, because she is blond like me. When I started to notice how I didn't look like my family, I actually began to believe I was adopted and everyone was trying to keep it secret. Mom my had to pull out the albums to prove that she gave birth to me.

      I wanted to be like my grandma so much, and so many times I felt like I wasn't allowed because I didn't look right. And I'm certainly not saying that I have greatly been harmed by this, but it has been interesting to observe life through this lens.

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    3. I love seeing your side too, truly. I love hearing about your Maori roots, and how you thought you were adopted (I did too), and and how people who laughed later apologized (even if not directly to your face). :)

      In reading your response, and just everyone's comments here, I feel like a pattern is emerging. I'm not sure I can accurately translate that pattern into words... but it's something along the lines of, "These racial definitions are not working." Our society is so mixed, so full of nuance, that the labels aren't functioning productively anymore. (As if they ever did...?) I wonder if we'll manage to do away with them, or evolve them into something better.

      "I'm certainly not saying that I have greatly been harmed by this, but it has been interesting to observe life through this lens."

      Ditto.

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  27. SO glad you shared this post. Your story could be a great book:D Of all my siblings I'm the one that doesn't look Swedish (we're a quarter Swede, but for some reason most of my siblings got that and I got strong English bones-lol. Not that it's the same as people not believing your Maori, but I get a little bit about what you're saying. Also-thrilled to bits that you worked at the cultural center in college. Go you. I've been learning poi balls, but I'm pretty awful (we have a Samoan branch that meets in my church building).

    I'm glad you write multiple races. I haven't branched out, not wanting to write the "wrong" thing, so it's mainly supporting characters.

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  28. I had no idea you were part Maori! That's the coolest thing ever!!!!
    I have a slightly less cool heritage to claim: Almost entirely white, European roots... Although I am apparently distantly related to Chief Massasoit(the chief of the First Thanksgiving).

    Another of the issues with the racial side of people is that not offending people you don't interact with much can lead to offending people you interact with a lot. Like at my school. A lot of the kids at my school are African-American and get ticked off if a white person calls them black. And you get so used to calling everybody black, it's weird talking about Africa in class and realizing that the people there are Africans and the "American" is not there. And it gets really weird when the kid who spent the early years of his life in Haiti gets called African-American and has to correct someone (Thankfully, he has a good sense of humor and understands why people make the mistake.)

    Diversity is definitely something we need more of in fiction. Most of the mainstream protags are white and have minimal interaction with people of other racial backgrounds. What's kind of funny about this is that more racial minorities are being born in the States than whites- so when those kids start getting into fiction, they're going to want to see characters like them.


    Thank you for expressing your thoughts on this. We need more people to talk about this topic and not treat it as taboo.

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    1. I had a guy in highschool get irritated because i referred to him as african-american and he is from the states. He said, "i aint never been to africa!" and told me to call him black.

      someone's always going to get offended.

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    2. Also, it sounds like you've been conditioned by others to think less of your race, in that it's not cool unless it's part of a minority (in the states, without considering world population).

      You have just as much right to be proud of your european heritage as natalie does of her maori heritage.

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  29. Wow, thanks so much for sharing this powerful and honest post.

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  30. A friend of mine from the States has Native American heritage, but you wouldn't think it to look at her. Another friend of mine has the palest skin of anyone I know, but her grandmother was half-African. People deserve to be proud of their heritage, and more power to you for deciding to stand up for it.

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  31. Natalie, thanks for sharing your story. So proud of you for writing this post. You have a great heritage!

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  32. I always loved hearing you talk about your Maori hearitage... and teaching us the Haka at FHE...and of course all the beautiful dancing you did.

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  33. I'm so glad you shared this part of yourself. I wouldn't have guessed your heritage as Maori, which just goes to show you can't ever assume about people. We are all so unique and varied, especially here in the US were so many cultures have mixed and mingled. What a wonderful and interesting history to share with your kids. And yay for your grandma. She sounds like a great lady.

    You may not look a lot like your Maori relatives, but you do look a lot like the gentleman on the far left of the above photograph, who I assume is your father. :)

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  34. Well Natalie you did it again, but this time you toped everything you have done so far, with this post you made me acknowledge, realize and appreciate why I keep coming bake to this blog of yours again and again and again. This post is so beautiful and relating to me I just don’t know what to say about it! I love to include characters with various races and ethnic backgrounds too, I love to see the things I wish would be in the reality, I’m black, I know about race issues, I also come from a culture that depends heavily on what tribe you belong to, Yup! I know all about looking something while being something else.

    I may "write it wrong" sometimes, but I'd rather try than be accused of not including other cultures at all.

    Amen to that :)

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  35. Natalie. You rock. I love the fact that everyone has such diverse roots, and yours are really awesome! Personally, I define myself as Bengali-American (Bengali dad and American mom). Of course, if you really wanted to take a magnifying glass, Dad's family actually hails from Turkey and Yemen farther up the line, and Mom has Native American blood, some German and a bit of African American in there, too.

    As a result, sis, bro and I have had a hard time really 'defining' ourselves when people ask where we are from (the default question when you're Muslim in the US, anyways - as if you can actually belong here and not be fresh off the boat!). To our cousins, we're the "American ones". It's insulting sometimes how shocked they are that I keep up with the Bengali/South Asian culture - wanting bangle sets, wearing shalawar and mehndi on special occasions, etc.

    I have a lot of 'Desi' (South Asian) friends, so they will take me on that side, and become shocked when I mention wanting an American (read: simpler? Less headache-y?) wedding over a Desi one, or preferring K-dramas over Bollywood.

    (For real. Korea knows where it's at.)

    In any case, we pretty much go with the Bengali-American, or just American if it really comes down to it - and still get asked, "No really, where are you from? Pakistan? Malaysia?"

    I agree with Kristan. It's time to move past the instantly assumed boundaries of race and color. We're a big melting pot of a world.

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  36. New Zealand is a beautiful place. How cool to have that as your heritage!

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  37. Kia ora Natalie, and greetings from Mesa, Arizona:

    I am so glad that Liahona told me about your blog! Nothing can ever change the fact that you are part Maori ....because of your whakapapa (ancestry) through your maternal grandmother! I have enjoyed reading your thoughts, and would say to you....continue to be proud of who you are! Our cultural background whatever that may be is an important part of the tapestry of our lives. I challenge you to learn more of your grandmother's heritage, so that you can also pass it onto your children!! Kia Kaha, Kia Manawanui, Kia Ngawari. Michele Parata-Hamblin. (Liahona's Mum)

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  38. It's kind of like people who are part white and part black. They're often vilified if they don't call themselves black---regardless of how they look. Too bad we can't just be happy being people and stop obsessing over our origins and racial components...hopefully in the world to come, that will change...

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  39. I get it a lot too. I'm part Cree (plains Indian), but I couldn't look much whiter, even though I have dark eyes and hair. I've always identified strongly with my Cree heritage, and when I was in University and had a chance to live in a city with a large Cree population, I was stunned by the reception I got. I made a few Cree friends, but a lot of the people I met, when I told them I was Cree looked at me and said "well, you're obviously not 100%". It was very dismissive and hurtful, though I doubt that any of them realized, or would have cared if they did. Some of my friends accepted me as Cree, but would make nasty comments about white people around me (my father is Scottish). Again, hurtful. My white friends were no better, often making racist comments about natives. I had to be an Indian with my Cree friends, and white with my white friends, and never felt accepted by either as both.

    It gets lonely, always being an outsider. The trick is to find fellow outsiders.

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  40. I have a friend who has Polish heritage. She has black hair and dark brown eyes, light skin that tans easily. In college all the black guys hit on her and thought she was part African-American. She was selling tickets at a game once and felt trapped in there as a couple guys harrassed her. Why are we so quick to judge on appearance? And, why would anyone think it's ok to say you don't look "right." Keep being who you are!

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  41. Omg, this is so me with my Mexican heritage. My great-grandmother was Mexican/Mestiza. Grandpa was half Mexican. Only in my case my Grandpa was ashamed of his race and he tried to hide behind being 'white'. Same with his family. After I became a bilingual teacher in LA county school district, I researched more. Was in graduate bilingual/bicultural studies at CSUF. I ran up against those telling me, "How dare you say you're a minority when you've never experienced racism". Uh, family did but to some that wasn't enough. Or, "You're white." Uh, no I'm not. I still fight whenever I have to fill out those dumb 'race' boxes. You know the ones that say, 'white without Hispanic heritage' or Hispanic. I end up checking off other. I've always been open about who I am and I embrace it. My uncle Brent told me he wished that our family had been more accepting of it. Now I teach my son his culture(he's adopted and his birth mother was half Mexican) and to be proud of it.

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