Below are the personal reflections of two of the high school students who traveled on a civil rights tour of the South with Project HIP-HOP (Highways into the Past: History, Organizing and Power).
Project HIP-HOP Voice #1
The question was not a new one. “What are you?” Even before I emigrated from the
After having arrived in the
Growing up, I had no sense of humor about it. Every time I was asked what I was, I sincerely felt as if blinding spotlight had betrayed me, and had revealed that, crime of crimes, I wasn’t white. I laugh now, remembering how in basketball, I and another Asian were put on the “foreign” team because, to the middle-school mind, we clearly couldn’t qualify as “American” players. Kids would want to make fun of me and call me by a racial slur, yet the old stand bys “nigger” or even “chink” didn’t seem to apply. They’d try “chink” and add “gook” for good measure. Ha, I felt like saying, I am neither of those! Yet nor could I say that I was white.
In this country, I wasn’t American not because I had emigrated, but because I wasn’t white. The name “American” was apparently very much tied to race.
My experience has shown that whites have a better claim to being “American” than I did, and that meant they were exempt from their own question, “What are you?” - a question I could never ask of them. While whites, among themselves, could ask, “Who are you?” I was to them a “What?” a body before a person.
Project HIP-HOP Voice #2
I had to learn who I was, and part of that meant what race I was. My race was defined by those around me. It wasn’t easy for people to place my racial identity.
Some thought I was Latino, others thought I was a mix, between Latino, Black and even white. Some figured me for being Native American. None were right.
I am Indian American. My parents emigrated from
Race is something placed upon me by society. Since it is based on how one looks, I became what I looked like to someone else, regardless of my true racial identity. Yet one thing has remained the same: though people can’t place what I am, they know I am certainly not white.
Growing up “non white” has its positives and negatives. Since I lived in a mostly poor and working-class Black and Latino neighborhood, I was more accepted by Blacks and Latinos on account of our shared “non white” skin. I became a “person of color,” and formed a community with other people of color. I also felt more comfortable with Blacks and Latinos because we faced everyday racism. There was a tacit understanding between us that, because of our shared lack of white skin, we’d have to stick together. Of course, my color was a burden as well. I had to deal with harassing police, condescending teachers, and other pains people of color face in white society.”
I am brown. People see that, yet they don’t know the history behind my color, that my parents came from a country which struggled against a colonial force. They don’t care to understand the rich culture of
How do you define yourself?
Do you think of yourself in terms of a particular “race”?
Were you born in the
Can you identify with anything in these Project HIP-HOP voices?