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A Tale of Two Faces

My mother tells me I look like my grandmother, a brown belle whose features I know only through faded photographs and choppy 8mm film strips. I try to imagine the experience of a woman with whom I seem to share a face, with her growing up under Jim Crow in the 1910s and 1920s as a black girl in Elizabeth City, N.C., and maturing into womanhood in Atlantic City, N.J.

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My friends, on the other hand, tell me I look like my mother, a bronze beauty whose eyes I have been swallowed by for more than three decades. As a child, I looked into the sepia-colored face of my mother’s childhood and declared she was me. She was born and raised in California to Spanish-speaking parents from Texas who were desperate to escape their Mexican-ness and assimilate into white American culture. Without any desire to be or pass as white, my mother bathed her skin in the sun even after warnings of getting too dark and risked being disowned for marrying a black man. A true chingona, my mother has lived life on her own terms. And I hope I look like her in that way, too.

While my Chicana mother shares her face and mitochondrial DNA with me, we do not exactly share identities. I share more of an identity with the grandmother I never knew. I am a black woman. I am a black woman who is half Mexican. I am a black woman who loves, respects and honors the Mexican heritage that is largely unfamiliar to her.

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Tags: #culture, #family, #identity
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