Not What You See

Submitted for Contest #45 in response to: Write a story about community.... view prompt


Jun 05, 2020


 The assumption by physical appearance is that I am white. You’re partially correct. Although the truth is, I am also half Mexican, raised by only my Latino family. 

   The culture I exhibit internally is not from America, it is established from my immigrant grandparents who came to this country for a better life. 

   And they succeeded, with hard work and determination. My grandfather went to school by day and worked in the cannery at night.  

   My grandmother worked full time in the cannery as well, and soon my Abuelo owned and ran his own metal shop, which helped get the cable cars back up and working in San Francisco, repaired the Bay Bridge and made sets for the concerts Bill Graham put on in the Bay Area. Although they always feared people in power, due to the violence and attacks placed on their heritage. I'm disheartened to say that continued until their final breathes.

   My Abuela was my primary caretaker until I was about three years of age. She and my grandfather lived in the projects in West Oakland.

  When neither my grandmother nor mother were around to watch me, I was looked after by Pearl, my mom’s best friend.

   Pearl was a black woman, her family was black, and the community I was being raised in was black. I will never say I know the pain and struggle of being an African American, but I can share something I do know. 

   When I was with this family and community, I was protected and looked after, as if I were their own child.  

   Not one person there treated me like the minority I was in the projects of West Oakland. No one called me a white girl, half breed, or wanted me out of their home or surroundings. Every one of them was there for me. Painting my little fingernails, reading to me, feeding m. All the nurturing steps a family does for their babies.

   They took me in with love, but I saw the glares outsiders gave and heard unkind comments. I was not old enough to digest them, I just didn’t understand why certain things were being said, and faces appeared angry. All we were doing was walking down the street to get a Sweet Potato pie.

  When I was almost four years old, my grandfather told my mom it was time for her to be a mother and made us both leave his house. His equivalent of making her spread her wings? No, it was tough love. I guess with her packing such precious cargo, he believed she would figure it out for the both of us. She may have been a teenager, but she was a mother now, and he wanted her to start behaving that way. 

   Soon my mom had a job as an usher at a movie theater and a white boyfriend who was a truck driver that lived in Oakland and had black co-workers. 

  One of those co-workers was a young black man named Tyrone. He would get so pleased to see me, climb down from the diesel truck, and take me to get a snack and play ball with me in the yard. I would hear, folks tell my mom’s boyfriend, “Are you sure you should be leaving her alone with him?” 

   I could not understand why they would ask such a question, my mom’s boyfriend had no concerns, neither did my mom, and I can tell you without a doubt, Tyrone never harmed me. Ty was my friend, who frequented my home. He had dinner with us, played with me, read bedtime stories, gave me a hug, and tucked me in at night. 

   I’m trying desperately to point out that being raised for a time in the projects by a black community, I was accepted. 

   The only concern people of color had was for their own. They did not want to see someone from the projects be taken in by the police for being with a white child. It happened. Luckily he was released after some graveling, pleading, and my mother showing up at the police station with proper identification and proof that I was her daughter, left in his custody. 

   Did that family stop being there for me, no, they did not. It did not change a thing, I was still considered their baby girl.

  When my family hurts, so do I, and although I may not be capable of being out there physically, I can share my words. And words are powerful if used correctly. 

   The black community was there for me when I was a helpless child in need of a guardian. I wish I could do more than speak to be there for them.

I hate even sounding as if we are different, but we are. Society and history continue to treat us that way. Have we not learned anything from the past? The mistakes that were made, the pain inflicted, and the lives that were lost? 

   My heart is being tortured daily by all the animosity and pain I see and feel. I can’t understand why someone would be filled with such intense anger; they justify harming another person who has done nothing but asked to be acknowledged and heard. And often inflicted or killed for no reason at all. God rest your soul George Floyd.

  The assumption by physical appearance is that I am white. I’m not. My blood is half brown, and many other shades that come with being Mexican. If you know any Latin history, you know that I have so many races flowing through me, that it’s hard to believe we as a human race are anything but all just one. My heart, now my heart and soul, holds all color. They will not nor ever hold anything less than that. 

  How do you see me now? Do you fear me, hate me and want to hurt me or accept me?

   I hope the answer is accept.

  This has gone on far too long and must be stopped. I’m hoping the teardown is the beginning of the rebuild.

If nothing positive comes from this horrific time and good does not prevail, everything I have ever believed is a lie.

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Laura Clark
14:37 Jun 13, 2020

A powerful tale - thank you for sharing.


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Ashley Higbee
14:45 Jun 18, 2020

Thank you for sharing your story, Monique. This is beautiful and powerful and so important right now. Please continue to share your message of hope and understanding!


18:22 Jun 18, 2020

Thank you for the kind words Ashley <3 With your encouragment, I will! :)


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Lindy Guidry
21:49 Jun 17, 2020

Monique, this is a beautifully written essay. People judge on outward appearances; race, ethnicity, culture, disability, appearance, and so many other outward traits that have nothing to do with who a person is where it counts; on the inside. If you look at a photograph of my family, we are all very different; My daughter married a black man and I have beautiful café au lait colored grandbabies. My son married a girl from Korea. My granddaughter is gorgeous with almond shaped eyes and straight dark hair. My youngest son married a Nordi...


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Angel Brookins
05:48 Jun 16, 2020

Being half Native American, but strongly representing the German genes that I inherited from my Jewish Grandmother, I completely understand where you are coming from.


19:17 Jun 16, 2020

Angel, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I love that this piece is making me see how many people understand the difference of what others see and does not know <3


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23:20 Jun 14, 2020

I can relate. Thank you for giving the voice of your experiences.


17:30 Jun 15, 2020

Thank you for taking the time to read it Therese <3


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01:03 Jun 14, 2020

I liked your story a lot Monique. Thank you for exploring the topic of appearances and how one can be perceived incorrectly. Sometimes people will presume where a person is from or their heritage by what they look like. But people can come from anywhere with a variety of features because there was much mixing back in history. To take myself as an example, I am a lady of colour, but have Scottish ancestry; my mom is much fairer than myself, while my grandmother appeared white with straight hair. I find that so-called differences in the huma...


20:14 Jun 14, 2020

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Charm and the kind words. <3 Yes, you really can't tell and I wish people would quit thinking it makes a difference. We should base people on character not where their ancestors came from. Is Monique your daughter's middle name? My mom got the name from a French Nun :)


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18:18 Jun 13, 2020

Thank you for the kind words Laura ...


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