I’m filling out the hospital paperwork between contractions, and am again faced with the mystery of my ethnicity. As usual, there is no check box for “German-Puerto Rican.” My lingering absence of self-identity is, at this moment, only slightly less annoying than the intense pain gripping my abdomen.
To be fair, I’m not only German and Puerto Rican. One quarter of me is as old and white as America. My great-aunt traced the Edwards’, my mom’s family, back to former presidents, the Mayflower and beyond to our English and even Germanic roots. It is a good family foundation with many documented letters and pictures to prove a proud heritage.
Unfortunately, my dad’s family is not as well known. My granddad was from a German, Cincinnati-based family. I don’t have much knowledge of this lineage beyond our name “Schmidt,” and the many men whose middle name is “Bernard” and whose emotions are often hidden behind a cold and stoic armor.
But I knew Granddad. I had twenty-two years with him. I didn’t know my grandmother, Lydia, whose Hispanic last name I can’t even recount with certain accuracy.
The circumstances of not knowing of my grandmother--not knowing of her, which is even more sad than not knowing her--are difficult and complicated for others beside myself. The bottom line is that, though we still have family in Puerto Rico and in the Bronx, New York, this link was broken long ago.
And so I stare at this form. Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American, Native American, Other. I stop for a contraction. I need to finish this paperwork, and so while my hand lingers over Other, I choose Caucasian.
What else is there for me? I am 25% Hispanic but all I know is White. Here comes another contraction and yes, that’s the choice I make.
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Hours later my second baby boy was born. By my calculations he is 1/8 Puerto Rican, 1/8 German, 1/4 English, 1/8 Lithuanian and 1/8 Scottish and 1/4 a mix of other small parts.
That’s right--my husband has holes in his heritage, too.
Is this normal for our generation in America? I am sad to think, yes. The proverbial melting pot has become less a pot of equality than one of melting memories. I have a hazy understanding of where I came from, and unless I research this more, my kids will have no clue of what flows in their veins.
Ancestry.com and many similar sites have gained popularity in recent years. Those are good resources, but I still hope to make my search truly personal and speak with my remaining family members to learn about our history. Websites can provide names but not stories.
I’m staring at a picture of my family. My mom is blonde and blue-eyed; my dad dark with black hair and mustache; my brother blonde and brown-eyed; me with brown hair and brown eyes. I look more Mediterranean than anything, I think. Sometimes people ask if I’m Jewish.
Well, I’m probably all of that, somewhere back in time. What I am now is not about who I look like or how the government categorizes me. Mom, wife, daughter, lady, writer, runner, lover, believer.
There is no box.