Birthday present: You are black, sorta?
My mother raised me to be white and I am, at least by self-identification I guess. She died a couple of days before I turned 50 this past fall. On the eve of my birthday I was going through some of her papers and found her birth certificate. My mother immigrated to this country from Peru in 1958. In her papers were her original birth certificate and a fake one that she used to come to the United States. She had changed from black to white, illegitimate to legitimate and became 8 years younger. The context for all this is important but for me the bottom-line was a sense of tremendous sadness that she never felt she could share this with me. It breaks my heart that we never had a chance to talk about it, that she didn’t feel she could trust her only child to understand and that she didn’t feel she could ever come out of hiding. Both of those things make me sad, the lack of trust and the apparent belief that the world hasn’t changed so much since 1958 that her race would be a non-issue. It clearly is an issue. And now, I have a new prism through which to see things.
Michele Norris is the host of NPR’s All Things Considered and the author of The Grace of Silence.