Opinion: Embracing my roots

My experience growing up in a multi-racial family

I pose for a photo with my step-father’s parents, my Grand Gigi and Grand Bambam, in May of 2011. We attended a pool party at their friend’s home, where we ate cake and enjoyed each other’s presence.

Photo via Sonia Rivera

I pose for a photo with my step-father’s parents, my Grand Gigi and Grand Bambam, in May of 2011. We attended a pool party at their friend’s home, where we ate cake and enjoyed each other’s presence.

The aroma of collard greens and ribs linger in the air while chatter and laughs echo through the halls of a small home in Oak Cliff. A home that is beloved to me: the green carpet, floral wallpaper and incredibly soft couches. I would sit on those couches as a child, in between my mother and step-father, coloring pages in my Disney Princess coloring book.

Every now and then, family members would approach me and touch my curls, asking how I’ve been and how I was doing in school — always wanting to make sure I was keeping those straight A’s. I had never felt more comfort and love in my entire life.

I had little-to-no contact with my biological father until I was 8. All I had was my mother. She was both mom and dad — until she met my step-father, Corey.

My mother met Corey at her first job after divorcing my biological father when I was 2. However, my mother struggled to find a romantic partner since she had a young child. It was asking a lot from somebody else to raise a child with her who would not biologically be theirs.

My mother, step-father and I pose for a photo at the SuperBowl Experience in 2011. At the time, my mother and him had been together for two years. (Photo via Sonia Rivera)

But Corey was different. He approached the thought of raising me as a blessing, rather than a burden that came along with my mother. He filled the hole in my heart that came with growing up without a present father. Corey treated me as if I were his own child. He would invoke unannounced tickle attacks, introduced me to Dairy Queen blizzards and played video games with me on lazy days.

I came from a Mexican background on my mother’s side, while my father was half Puerto-Rican and half African-American. I was in tune with my Mexican culture, but I lacked appreciation and knowledge of my father’s. There had been numerous times in my childhood where my mother’s extended relatives looked at me in a different light simply because of my father’s lineage. It felt as though I never truly fit into my mother’s family; as if I would never be “Mexican” enough for them. Most mixed children deal with this internal conflict — feeling as though they can never appease either culture. 

To my surprise, my cultural background and the color of my skin didn’t matter to Corey’s extended family. Corey came from an African-American background, and I was welcomed into his family without hesitation. I became the baby of the family, always coddled and spoiled. I attended Sunday service at his family’s church with his parents, my Grand Gigi and Grand Bambam, in Dallas. On my mother’s side of the family, I was raised Catholic. Needless to say, it was refreshing to see a different set of beliefs and to understand others different from me. I grew to love the diversity present in my life.

Corey and I sit in a local Applebee’s, getting lunch with my mother in 2012. Activities such as eating at restaurants and watching movies at home were a few of our favorites as a family. (Photo via Sonia Rivera)

Corey and my mother split after being together for four years when I was 8 years old. However, as I grew up and entered high school, Corey remained a pivotal person in my life. He always showed up, no matter the occasion. Whether it was for father-daughter breakfasts at school or to surprise me with UberEats after a long day, Corey always made it clear that I was important to him. 

As a mixed race child, I felt like an oddball for most of my childhood. I never knew what box to check off on standardized tests for my race and the majority of my childhood friends were white. While surrounded by Corey and his family’s unconditional love during my childhood, I was introduced to kind-hearted individuals, delicious foods and finally felt as though I belonged somewhere. For most of my childhood, I felt almost like an outcast from my own family due to being a child of many cultures. But, now, I feel empowered and proud that I’m different. 

As Black History Month begins, I recognize I am incredibly grateful for Corey and his family for showing me what the other side of my culture entails. During the month of February, take time to appreciate African-American culture. It is truly beautiful and I’m proud to call it mine.