Rant II: What Do You Mean By What Am I?

I have been asked for as long as I can remember, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” So for my whole life I have had to take a moment to decipher the question or just answer the question. When asked what am I, I usually push the person to be clear. When asked where I’m from the answer is very automatic. I am from New York. Oh, but that’s not usually a good enough answer for the interviewer. “Oh, no, no! WHERE are you from?” Hmm. New York? That’s where I was born and raised. That’s what I identify myself  first. That’s so part of my DNA. I also follow it up with what they really want to know. What people are really asking me is, “What is your ethnicity?”

My answer is “Well, I’m Indian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French.” That doesn’t satisfy them. So I tell them that my family is from Trinidad (where I’ll be in a week! Woot!). Well, why did I even say that! Because I have always always gotten this response, as recent as Friday…”But you don’t look Trinidadian!”

Oh my goodness. What does that even mean? What is it you want to know? Do I have to give you a lesson on the colonization and enslavement of the people of the Caribbean? Okay well, I’m not going to. Wiki Trinidad and Tobago and you’ll get a lesson or read The History of Trinidad and Tobago by Eric Williams.

I just find it irritating that I am questioned about my true self. Someone said to me the other day that I am passing as a Trini. Passing? Really. I am proud New Yorker who is fortunate to grow up in a city with diversity. I am also proud Trini who can tell you the history of the twin islands and promote its tourism (really, you should visit because it’s not as expensive as the other islands). I am also a proud descendant of the many cultures who make me who I am. I embrace my Catholic and Hindu upbringing. I enjoy Indian dancing and soca and merengue (and hip-hop and headbanging). I love that I can appreciate roti and curry chicken, arroz con gandules, and macaroni pie on one plate. I have a shalwar and those who know me know I love a scarf.

For the last decade I have now had to explain the McDonald portion of my name. That just brings a whole new set of confusing information to the person interested in me. A woman said to Ian and me that she never saw a couple like us. Really? We live in New York City. Interracial couples and families a go-go. We are both products of interracial couples. Just because Ian is caucasian doesn’t mean he doesn’t have roots. He is of Irish, Sicilian and German descent and all three of those cultures are proudly represented by him. His German grandmother’makes a kick ass stuffed cabbage, his Sicilian-German mother can cook just about anything and his Irish grandmother makes a wonderful plum pudding. People have told us to our faces that he isn’t really Irish because he was born here… *sigh* His Irish grandmother wouldn’t appreciate that.

I know that I am stuck with this until I die. I just want to be accepted for me and not pigeon-holed by my ethnicity. Not fitting in feels awful by itself. When you add the snarky and, at most times, insensitive question, it feels like I am not who I thought I am. Granted that lasts a moment but  still. Stop being obtuse.

And no, we are not going to have children for the sake of seeing what they would look like! Yes, I have gotten that question too. That’s another blog.

I want to take a DNA test so I can find out my percentages. I know that I am made up of more than what I listed and I love that.

My name is Malini Singh McDonald. I am a tough New Yorker with Trinidadian sass. Two snaps and a whine.

One Comment Add yours

  1. daphne says:

    malini—i totally understand you. i get the same questions all the time…i also start with “from New York” followed by what neighborhood if they continue to ask where i’m from. its exhausting isn’t it. and annoying.

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