It was chilly outside, so the family decided to stay in. Dad was in the basement watching TV. Toy cars zipped across little Bob's bedroom floor. Gabi was fast asleep in her playpen.
So Alejandra and I decided to practice writing the letters "A" and "B" with crayons.
"Mom," she said.
Her big brown eyes were wider than normal. I knew something serious (as serious as a 3-year-old can get) was on her mind.
"What color am I?" she asked.
I sat in silence for a moment. I didn't know how to answer. I knew she would eventually ask me that question. But I never prepared an answer. I handed her a red crayon. She drew a diagonal.
"Well, babe," I said. "Which color do you think?"
She shrugged and drew another diagonal.
Alejandra's father is black. I'm Latina. He grew up in north Omaha (predominantly black neighborhoods). I was raised in South Omaha (or the barrio as some say.).
He ate grits and greens. I ate chorizo and tortillas. Before we had children, we had lengthy discussions about how we would raise our kids. We wanted them to know both cultures. We wondered if our children would identify with one ethnicity more than the other.
It was important to him that they understood the plight and triumphs of African-Americans. For me, it was just as important that they were third generation Spanish speakers who were still connected to their Mexican heritage.
Our kids attend a bilingual day care in South Omaha.
Now that Alejandra is in pre-kindergarten, she's surrounded by a beautiful rainbow of ethnicities.
Naturally, she wants to know where she fits in among her peers.
"Mami," she said. "You never answered me."
She connected the diagonals then reached for another crayon. She began drawing a green "B."
"Mija," I said. "That's for you to decide."
She hesitated. Then slowly said "black" almost as if she was seeking approval.
"Yes, baby," I said, "you are."
"But I speak Spanish?" she asked.
"Yes, you do."
"So what does that make me?" she asked.
"That's for you to decide."
The corners of her lips tugged into a smile and she said, "I think I'm both."
I smiled back and hugged her tightly.
"Mom," she said again, "what color are you?"
I handed her a crayon and said "purple."
She nodded and we went back to drawing A's and B's.
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