By Camila Tabar
I never thought I’d be writing this because in truth I think the plight of the white walker is about as tragic as losing a sock. Ethnically, I am Mexican and Persian. My mother Mexican and father Persian. I look weirdly like both and neither, and usually I just get misidentified as Asian or an off-brand yt person. When I straighten my hair, I am a wolf In sheep’s clothing, white but suspiciously not white. When my hair is full curly, I could see how a brain conditioned to categorize would implode a little. When I shave my arms, tweeze my mustache, and laser my literal ass cheeks, I am sleek sweet ambiguity. You’d have no idea.
I think this passing status would bring my dad pride. Some immigrants work painstakingly to preserve their culture, my dad worked painstakingly to insure my sister and I could assimilate seamlessly. This allowed us the privileges of feeling like everyone else. My home was different (single dad etc etc), but not for reasons of culture. I never felt ostracized except when puberty happened and the other girls weren’t getting the same right-of-passage sideburns that were growing in so confidently down my cheeks. But honestly I had an equally hairy Sicilian friend who could relate so I didn’t think much of it. While boys were calling me terrorist, girls were calling her sasquatch. It felt like one in the same, and we laughed/cried and shaved our arms and soon everyone forgot about that short-lived ethnic anomaly.
Alongside passing status, I came home to baba’s ghourmeh sabzi, I made it rain on Nowruz, and I had a grandma who would spontaneously bring me fresh cut fruit while I watched TV (if you know you know). I went to family parties where relatives would pinch my cheeks and was genuinely baffled upon first hearing in 8th grade that someone could NOT like cilantro. Like romaine lettuce or salt, I thought it was genuinely just a fixture of the human diet. Mexican candy was just candy, and I didn’t think twice when my sister had a donkey at her 7th birthday. I was more scandalized that I was a child of divorce than that I was a grandchild of a man named Azizulah.
And it was nice and it continues to be nice. It comes with all the privileges you’d imagine. Like dual-citizenship in worlds so seemingly exclusive from one another. Sometimes it really can feel more like citizenship and less like a visa. I’ve noticed in my adulthood this is relative to my company, however. As I get older and more active in the reclamation of the cultures I once so apathetically participated in, I find myself expanding and contracting my ethnic-ness to meet the space that I’m in. In a flock of yt, I now peacock. In a mural of color, I now recede.
It becomes clearer what I lost in gaining this passing status. Mehmoonis can feel like a spectator sport, with my dad whispering translations in my ear as older relatives laugh at jokes I’ll never fully get. Cousins that were more attentive to their culture get to nod and smile, my eyes glaze over and I am completely lost. Relatives that once saw my American-ness as cute and novel now can’t imagine how Farsi literacy slipped by me. Literally the same man (uncle, cousin, transient- his relation to my family remains unknown to me), insists on addressing me in Farsi and reacting stunned each time I turn to my dad for translation. We’ve been doing this song and dance for YEARS man, give me a BREAK. But truthfully it’s okay, I’d be more hurt if he stopped.
Don’t get me wrong, as much as I cry outsider, I love these parties. I’m so lucky that this is my family and my only grievance is wanting to be closer to them. The reality is it’s a privilege I get to observe this world, even if it’s less a world I’m genuinely a part of. This alienation is the price I pay for the luxury of being a chameleon. My dad knew this transaction and saw it worth it. My privilege is not having to know that it was.