What are you? If I could have a dollar every time I heard that. Well, I’m a woman. A human. A mother. However, this question is always tied to my facial features or my curly hair.
I was born to an African-American mother and a Hispanic father. Growing up, I always felt included within each spectrum of this cultural melting pot. If I was watching my Aunt Teresa make homemade tortillas, or watching Grandma Azoree cook full course meals that always included sweet cornbread or peach cobbler – it always felt warm and welcoming. Grandma Azoree took me to daycare in our Third Ward neighborhood, where I could have been perceived as the minority in the class because of my skin color. However, the children saw no color whatsoever and hide and seek was always the business. I was later enrolled into a magnet elementary school in the middle of River Oaks, which is the pinnacle of high society in Houston. Periodically, my mother would come to the cafeteria at lunch time and kids would abruptly ask if that was my “REAL mom”. I was apprehensive about responding, but then we would proceed to trade Capri Suns and the world was normal again. It was not until after elementary school that this acceptance began to change.
This was a critical, transitional time where I didn’t know what box to fit in. School was all about cliques, and I was extremely awkward. It was my mission to be cool with everyone, but I didn’t really have a home. I made it a point not to stand out because I was fearful. That one question – what are you? At 13, how do you eloquently answer that? After one summer of swimming and subsequently growing into my chubby physique, I discovered I could possibly fit in as a cute girl. I figured out boys kind of had a thing for me despite my horrible glitter eyeshadow and lip liner. This fear of fitting in slowly manifested into frustration. I was still not good enough. I dated a Hispanic boy, and his family despised me. Not because I wasn’t polite or personable. They turned their nose up at me because I wasn’t 100% Mexican, and I wasn’t fluent in Spanish. Some of the black girls in school even picked on me, calling me names because I wasn’t black enough according to their standards. “Just that little mixed girl”. This became a constant cycle that was discouraging and directly impacted my self-confidence over time.
As I matured, I set my sights to learn about diversity and inclusion and how important it is to society. Diversity brings a variety of viewpoints, expansion of experience, and so much innovation. By respecting a diverse culture, you can unlock your own potential. This is specifically why companies leverage diversity within the workforce. It drives productivity and gives others a chance to learn by increasing exposure to multiple ways of thinking. We can ALL learn from others. Diversity adds value and amplifies social development. Instead of harboring the fear of the unknown, let’s celebrate these differences. Learning about someone and their background provides insight to newfound perspectives and behaviors. By diminishing stereotypes or misunderstandings, we will begin to lessen the prejudice that creeps around every corner. Be a catalyst for change. Perpetuating this change can steer your whole outlook in a positive direction. Great leaders understand diversity and inclusion, and this is how they build effective teams around them. Have you looked at your “team” lately? Honestly, it is a blessing to be able to witness so much uniqueness in the world today. Show pride in where you come from and who you are while advocating for others.
While I continue to battle my seat at the table as a minority and a woman, I encourage you to elevate yours by embracing diversity. Sometimes, it can be a challenge for me to promote understanding in our current climate. Redirect hate and discrimination to filter in love. As a parent, it is especially important to show my children. We are all so much more than a check box on a form. I am so much more than an “Other”.