12/09/2014 02:04 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

On Raising a Mixed-Race Son in a Time of Fear

Angelita Niedziejko via Getty Images

I watched the Ferguson trial verdict from bed rest in the hospital, hoping that my son was not going to be born at 24 weeks. He wasn't, but after I was discharged to continue bed rest at home, I couldn't help but continue to ride the wave of emotions that night churned up in me. I am a fourth-generation Mexican American. Although I have paler skin than my father and siblings, my features clearly show I'm Hispanic, or at least, not white. I often puzzle people when I first meet them who try to "guess what I am."

But I have an identify firmly rooted in being Latina. I have learned about civil rights, about the struggles of my grandfather and my parents growing up in Houston at a time when it was still very much segregated. I grew up in a heavily Hispanic and Black area of town, and it is a fairly recent phenomenon for me to live among a diverse area of town that includes whites alongside ethnic minorities.

I am afraid of what my son will and will not look like because in a lot of ways, this will determine how I will have to parent him, to prepare him for the world. Will he "pass" as white, as Jewish, as his father is? Or on a dark night coming home from a party, will his long nose and broad face betray him and cause the police to pause alongside him?

I honestly don't know what I want for him, but either answer feels fraught with guilt, worry and wanting the best for my son.

I will teach him to both respect and protect himself from police, no matter what the race of the officer. I will teach him to be wary of wearing hooded jackets, to dress formally, to avoid the stranger's urge to discriminate against him. This desire to protect is nothing new in my family. My father's parents were so fearful of their children having accents that they refused to teach any of their eight sons and daughters Spanish. They knew the feeling of being denied jobs, houses because they looked dark or too Mexican, because their English might portray a slight Latino lilt.

I feel guilt because in dangerous situations, I hope my son does pass as fully white if it will save him from humiliation and harm. But if he looks like me, it will be difficult. At the same time, I want my son to understand the struggle that my family and I have endured for being born Hispanic, and at a point in our lives, poor.

I want him to understand the girl in me who stayed up all night studying, reading, writing, so she could escape the circumstances that could contribute to having life of poverty. 

Even though he will be born into relative privilege, I want him to understand the feeling of having one pair of shoes and skipping lunch for two weeks to afford a birthday gift for your mom or to participate in a special activity.

I want him to appreciate, though not experience, the feeling of being called "wetback," a Mexican loser, a dumb Mexican. I hope he knows me, especially the one who rode her bike up and down along the bayou, dreaming of a roaring river from the trickle of the stream.