Overcoming the imposter syndrome of being mixed 

Opinion by NinaMcMullen

Ever since I was a little girl I always felt too white or not white enough. A little background on me: my mom is mixed and her mom is 100% Mexican from Jalisco, a state in Mexico. My dad is a cacophony of white, but mostly Scottish. That makes me a little less than half Mexican. 

When I was in elementary school, I remember telling people I was Mexican and filling in the “Hispanic/Latino” TerraNova ethnicity bubble with pride. It wasn’t until one of my teachers, thinking she was being helpful, called me on it that I realized I don’t fit the mold of “looking Mexican.” 

She was convinced I marked the wrong bubble and reprimanded me to erase it and tell the “truth.” After finally proving my own ethnicity to a woman who barely knew me, I had to come to terms with the standards that I just simply don’t fit into. 

I don’t have as brown of skin as my cousins and tías. I don’t have the thick, dark, curly hair of my abuela. I don’t live in a household that speaks Spanish beyond a couple phrases or terms of endearment. 

When I was little, my brother and I spoke Spanish with our abuela but we both lost the language by the time we entered middle school. Gannon, my fiercely heritage-proud brother, and I had to teach ourselves the language when we aged out of it. 

Gannon is someone I am so proud to share my blood with because he gets it. He and I went to an elementary/middle school that was beyond “predominantly white.” We were the only Mexican kids in our grades (he being two grades ahead of me). 

When I was at school, I felt out of place. When I was with my family, I felt out of place. The experience of never feeling like you belong is unique to mixed kids. Being labeled “white” by my family and “Mexican” by my friends left me confused. 

My brother and I learned to develop our own identities and had to navigate the nuances of our two cultures. We learned things from our parents and extended family that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise. We figured out the best way to spread masa on our tamale husk. 

We were told stories about the drunk Irishmen in our family with hearts of gold that we never knew. It helped us blossom into truly unique characters and made us rely on creativity. 

Both of us have always leaned on art to help us navigate our way through life. After high school, Gannon landed at Grand Central Atelier, a prestigious art school in Brooklyn, NY. 

I remember one time when I was particularly lost in the journey of identity, feeling too white, he told me, “There’s a Colombian in the first year with blonde hair and blue eyes and a Chilean with an English accent. They’re no less Latino than me or Gio or Kevin.” Giovanni Priante, born in Mexico, and Kevin Müller Cisneros, born in Peru, are two of Gannon’s classmates in his painting class.

My brother and I live in two worlds. Two worlds that seem to always be at odds. We internally code-switch, or bounce between dialects and ways we communicate, depending on who we’re around. From Mexican, to white, back to Mexican and back to white. It’s tiring. Gannon and I are tired. 

Sometimes it feels like the only person I have to lean on is my brother. He’s the only person with the same DNA mix as me. It took both of us years to flip the script and turn our zebra stripes into something to show off instead of hide. 

Now we know we’re the lucky ones to have been raised in two beautiful cultures. We are not simply “white” or “Mexican.” We are mixed and to be mixed is to be powerful and courageous. 

Photo Illustration of Nina McMullen by Hannah Cusick

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