Desiree Johnson, 25 years old
WHAT MIX ARE YOU?
Black & Mexican. My Black side originates from my father who has a mainly Texas based family lineage. My Mexican side is from my mother whose family originates from a town named Satillo in Mexico
WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN NOW DIVERSE?
Yes, the community I live in is diverse. What is great about Chicago is that there are so many different neighborhoods and suburbs within the city that specifically cater from culture like Greek to Mexican. I currently live in what is known as “Greektown,” which has been great so far.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I am from Killeen, Texas. We are the hub of culturally diversity due to the military base that neighbors us called Fort Hood, Texas. The community of Killeen is richly diverse with several types of multiracial families and mixed children who I had the privilege to call friends.
I grew up in small town in the panhandle of Texas called O’donnell, Texas located right outside of Lubbock, Texas. O’donnell was mainly a white/Mexican oriented community and me and my sister were the only mixed children who lived there. With fourteen streets, 1-A district schools, and a population of less than 2,000 you can say that I definitely had a different experience being void of outside cultures growing up.
HOW DID YOUR PARENTS MEET?
My parents met in college at San Angelo State University after my soon to be Uncle/Aunt introduced them while they were dating.
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
My mother also originated from O’donnell which was as devoid of diversity as it was when I lived there so dating/marrying a black man was a large step outside my grandparent’s comfort zones. There was not a significant obstacle that was race related other than my mother being the only one out of seven brothers and sisters who married someone who wasn’t Mexican/White. She broke the mold and really went outside of the racial environment and aesthetic my conservative, immigrant grandparents had been accustomed to in a smaller town.
HAS YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY ALWAYS BEEN SUPPORTIVE OF YOU BEING BIRACIAL?
While I was always aware that me and my sister were the only biracial members of our extended family on my mom’s side, it was more common on my father’s side. Both families were supportive in their own way, but we were both always aware that no one was biracial on my mom’s side like we were.
DID YOU CELEBRATE TRADITIONS FROM BOTH SIDES OF YOUR FAMILY?
I actually grew up very Americanized in terms of traditions within my culture. We were not raised catholic, and my father didn’t identify us as African American so I didn’t have a kwanza or anything. We did celebrate Cinco de Mayo but it wasn’t a mandatory holiday or anything. Everything culturally, I’ve explored that is a tradition with my race really didn’t happen until I was in college and in a different environment. My parents kept everything pretty generic.
WERE THERE MULTIPLE LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD?
I grew up in O’donnell for roughly six years up until age 11 where I lived with my grandmother. She at the time spoke little to no English so needless to say me and my sister learned to speak Spanish quickly as to communicate our wants/needs to her. In turn she began to learn English by watching TV with us and taking us to school functions.
Telenovelas, and a Hispanic Baptist church played integral parts of my childhood so I grew up being immersed in my Spanish culture. To this day I credit my grandmother and my mother (who is now a bi-lingual Pre-K teacher) with teaching me how to read, write, and speak in Spanish.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
I enjoy constantly learning about both aspects my culture and that how I can participate and engage myself in them has no end. In terms of my Hispanic culture I love the language and practice of being able to speak Spanish and how that is an aspect of my culture I can take anywhere I go. Whether I’m ordering food, writing dialogue for characters, reading, or simply engaging in conversation with someone it is an acquired skill and talent that I am constantly trying to improve upon. I’m fluent but not a native speaker so I enjoy the practice and challenge of perfecting my speech and pronunciation. I think whether spoken or sung the language of Spanish is beautiful and I am happy that it’s the second official language of the United States.
For my black side I enjoy the musical diversity that we have brought to the many genres and forms of art and that it keeps reinventing itself. Black people have very unique, deep, gospel filled voices whether your belting out hits like Beyoncé or crooning out something smooth and funky like Ray Charles, our music has no boundaries. I am very invested in the creation of black music and in being a writer, music is integral to my creative process and how I function in my daily life. Even though I am no singer (I’m not bad, but I’m not American Idol material either) I love the artistry and diversity that my culture brings to music.
WHAT ACTIONS DID YOUR PARENTS TAKE TO TEACH YOU ABOUT YOUR DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS?
My parents made sure that I had a pretty even amount of education in both aspects of my heritage whether it was excursions with extended family or teaching us about our culture through music and food. What was interesting with my parents is they each found a way to take their own familial traditions and culture and created this infusion of culture in our household. Naturally because I lived with my grandmother my child hood was dedicated to learning my Hispanic background with language, religion, and food. I remember being in 3rd grade and spending the summer with my grandmother and her extended family in Mexico and that was eye-opening. From the stone houses, to staying in a house with no electricity or getting raspas from a cart, Mexico in itself was its own teacher that I still carry with me to this day.
I guess because we were so immersed in our Hispanic culture my Dad had his own path to educate us about the other half of our culture. Music, food, movies and dancing were his tools of choice whether it was teaching us to sing acapella to old school hits like “Earth Angel” or showing us how to electric slide with our uncles at family reunions. Cooking was also essential to my father who was always challenging our pallet with oxtail stew, BBQ, seafood, and fried foods that were almost always incorporated or paired with hot sauce. He took care to show us diversity on the silver screen with New Jack City, a little bit of Will Smith or even Denzel to grace our television set.
DID YOU TALK ABOUT RACE A LOT IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
We as a family didn’t talk about race as much as we should have. We knew that mom was Mexican and dad was Black and for a while I think I perceived that to be enough. However, as I grew up and we moved from O’donnell to Killeen I learned it was more than just a black/white concept. Me and my sister both grappled with our issues ranging from bullying within our prospective races to seeing a stark difference in who we were within our extended families growing up. I myself dealt with being in a serious high school relationship that was interracial and had a profound effect on how I identified with myself compared to others.
DO YOU IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
I always identify as mixed. That was the vernacular used in Killeen and what my parents referred to my ethnic origins as.
DOES RACE WEIGH INTO WHO YOU CHOOSE TO DATE?
Race has never weighed in on what I want to date. I’ve had varied experiences over the years in terms of what I attract versus what I am attracted to, but I always keep an open my mind. My first boyfriend was white and I’ve also dated a slew of different Hispanic/latin ethnicities and most recently my last relationship was with a black man. My parents each had their own opinions on what they thought would be a better fit for me and my sister culturally, but as I grew up I keep it simple- “I like what I like.”
WHAT DOES BEING MIXED MEAN TO YOU?
Mixed means being a blend, a hybrid, a genetic concoction that produced something of both cultures that represented in my physical, spiritual, and mental self. Mixed means I get to embrace two different races of people, culture, and history that encompasses my lineage and who I am today.
DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS WHO ARE MIXED?
I have a good group of close friends who are mixed, most of them childhood friends from Killeen who I’m happy to still be in touch with. My best friend of over 12 years is Puerto Rican/Korean and she alone is a physical representation of all things mixed. My friends growing up taught me not to see culture, race or ethnicity as something to detract me from sparking a conversation, developing a relationship or making an acquaintance. We all pride ourselves on coming from a community full of racial diversity and a melting pot that I haven’t seen anywhere else since leaving Killeen. I’m thankful for the lesson of not being afraid to accept or educate myself about other races in terms of food, music, and culture and that comes from not having a boundary with each other growing up. I always enjoy going back to Killeen and seeing people who look more like me.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
I hate the “What are you?” Question that often makes me feel like I’m some other worldly species that isn’t human.
“What do you most identify with?” This always has made me feel like I have to choose or depending on the person that it’s some test to see where my loyalties lie.
Anyone who plays the guessing game based off of my hair, language, or speech that is never in any way close to being what I am. It’s always one or the other and something really far off paired with it. Ex: Black/White or Black/Cuban, Portuguese, Puerto Rican
Which one of your parents is ______ As if knowing which parent is what race helps to solve some undisclosed question they may have. Most of the time I answer and nothing follows but a head nod.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
My dream is eventually for America to be a place of acceptance and that mirrors the ideals, freedoms, and rights that make us so enviable to other countries. I’d love to help engage and create a better conversation about multiracial people, identity and our role in the larger construct of the ethnic pyramid. In a perfect world there would be no hate or prejudice, but until we reach that I hope to create literature that speaks to the multiracial experience and help develop platforms like blogs, media, and festivals that can help shine light on biracial people.