The Lover of Tainos

Henri Cruz

© Copyright 2002 by Henri Cruz

Photo of Karla and Jason.

Although my parents are Puerto Rican and they raised my younger sisters and me in ways similar to other children in the United States. Karla, eat everything on your plate, there are children starving. Karla, clean your room, do the dishes, do your homework, etc. etc. My parents have enriched my life and have thought me much even in about love, although they rarely spoke to me about it. There loving marriage and their patience with each other have led me to search for their happiness for myself. Somewhere a long the road I hit an interesting little bump, not bad, just interesting. I met Jason. Blond haired, blue-eyed Jason. Different background, very different family, different beliefs, different everything. Here's where my story begins.

I'm sure everyone is staring at us. They must be wondering what he is doing with me. How we got together. How did we end up being walking down the street together. Brown skin next to white. Black hair next to blonde. When I hear or see other such couples a warm feeling comes over me. "I'm not the only one!" a voice in my head shouts. Lets start from the beginning with the basics. I'm Hispanic. Puerto Rican to be exact. I love my dark brown skin color and my long black (and really thick) wavy hair. Oh, there are definitely things about me that I would like to change. A couple pounds less here and there, a few inches taller, more curves where there are none. Overall though, I'd say I'd basically stick to what I have. I had never thought to deeply about it, but my parents are an interracial couple. My mother has skin the color of warm honey. My sisters and I have all inherited this color to varying degrees. Another Puerto Rican woman I had known for about 30 seconds instantly guessed my background (few non-Puerto Ricans guess on the first try). "Tienes el color de los Tainos" she told me which meant that I had the darker coloring of the Tainos, which were the Native people that met Columbus so long ago. My father has much lighter skin. I have often compared his skin to those of white men. Dad (and most of his family) has a light tan skin. If it wasn't for his very distinctive Hispanic features (black hair, mustache, full lips and the accent that seems to appear only occasionally) his skin tone could have placed him as a white male. It's funny how we as kids never really noticed the difference. "Mom" was Mom and Dad was Dad. No brown, no white. Now as I'm developing a relationship with someone from "outside" the Hispanic lines, I sometimes wonder if my parents ever went through or thought of many of the things that I think about. My parents married when they were very young, so if color were an issue they would have to overcome, it would be one of many. Mom was only 15 or 16 when she married and Dad was twenty-one, two years younger than I am right now. One very important factor sets my parents' relationship apart from my own. Mom and Dad were born, met, and married in Puerto Rico, an island where it is very commonplace to have a rainbow of colors in a single family (like mine). Now, I've asked Mom if there were ever any problems with Dad's family because of her color. Mom shook her head no. The main problem was their ages. Both of them had to put school on hold for a while which did not go over well with their parents. However, their problems did not originate because my mother of Mom's color. Of course here in the United States it's different. Through first liking then falling in love with Jason, it's not difficult to forget about race when I'm with him. That isn't to say that I don't see his attractive blue-green eyes and blond-brown hair (and a few other features that I won't mention). His physical attractions are just slightly set into the background now. I've always found it interesting that we ended up together the way we did. As Jason has told me a couple times, where he grew up people didn't date across the racial lines. My sisters and I grew up as military brats. We move many times during of the course of our schooling living in other countries as well as in the United States. I guess we had more of an opportunity to see friendship, liking, and loving, without as many of the racial fences that people, sadly, still put up. That's why Jason is so special. Oh, his open-mindedness had a lot to do with his parents, who are wonderful but when it comes down right down to it, as much as our parents teach us, we make our own decisions. Just as I could have found my own Enrique Inglesias or Ricky Martin, he could have also stayed within the limits of his own culture. What an experience it has been! Although he complains that he doesn't practice his Spanish with me as much as he would like (he took Spanish in high school and college) I believe he's learned a lot about my culture. He's grown to crave my mom's rice and beans almost as much as I do and when I do try and simulate some of my mother's talent in the kitchen he is right there with me eyes watching, ears listening. He calls me Taino. My father still makes him nervous because at 23 years old, I'm still Daddy's little girl. Jason jokes around with my mother who has learned to slow her Spanish down (she talks like a hurricane) so that he can understand. My grandmother still jokingly claims that if I don't keep my eye on him, she will steal him away from me. As loving as his parents are to me, I'm sure that my physical characteristics would not have instantly popped up in their minds when visualizing their son's girlfriend. Even with those thoughts I've always been received into their home and their lives with very warm and genuine affection. Jason had a tougher time meeting my parents for the first time. With my parents, bringing a guy home to meet them was a huge and very serious affair. As I am the eldest child, Jason was one of the first to cross my parents' threshold. Poor Jason. Although I didn't let on, I was just as nervous as I knew Jason was (although he pretended not to be). Dinner with my parents started out slightly stiff but my parents warmed up pretty quickly. I was lucky to have my grandmother visiting at the time and she is always a pleasure to have around (and she helped lighten the mood). My mother even went as far as to invite an old friend of the family, Chis, who, by the way, was white (we love Chris, but her invitation to this dinner was no coincidence). The whole dinner was set under the pretence of celebrating my younger sister's birthday. However, everyone knew what it really was. Karla has a boyfriend! Karla has a boyfriend! I laugh now when I think about it.

Back to my original thinking, I still occasionally feel uncomfortable dating someone that is so different from who I am. It seems like our upbringing was worlds apart. Jason stayed in one small town most of his life and I've never stayed in the same place more than a couple years. My parents are very conservative and his are liberal. When we visit his old town people definitely take notice (especially when I'm the only Hispanic person for miles) while when he visits me, no one even blinks. That was definitely a new experience for me. I'd never been "the only" anything. I've never felt what it was to be singled out or vastly different than anyone else. My education was always taken from very diverse schools. I wonder what will happen when the day comes that some close-minded person may not see the beauty of our relationship and not keep their thoughts to themselves. I now am starting to look to the future because our relationship has started to become more and more serious. I do know one thing for sure. I want my children to think of his or her parents the same way I thought about mine. Mom is Mom and Dad is Dad. No brown no white. I wonder about the changes that will occur in my small family before long and how the rest of the world will react. I'm thinking most couples have to go through this thinking. Will the world be ready for Karla and Jason? My family, which is already a rainbow, will soon have an African American and Ethiopian son-in-law (my younger sister's fiancé). I have to chuckle because my mother's vision of us having a double wedding with two strong Hispanic men is quickly dwindling away. She's taking it well though. She's even trying to teach Jason how to dance the Merengue (although so far her efforts have been futile). Dad smiles a little more and is handling the fact that two of his little girls do not need him as much as they used to (the youngest still has some growing up time left). My grandmother, Abuelita, still jokes that she is going to steal Jason away if I don't keep an eye on him (my grandmother is very spunky). I try and keep from smiling when Jason tries to talk to me in Spanish. He's trying and I love him for that. I said before that he's learned a lot from me. I have also learned a great deal from him. I've learned to calm down a bit more. I don't feel as though I constantly have to fight with him to be heard, which is something I've had to do with some of the Hispanic men in my life (Sorry Daddy). Jason listens. Sometimes I think I would love it if Jason got mad and threw a huge fit. This never happens. He argues in a completely different way to which I am accustomed. When I get upset I love to yell, scream, at the very least I say something. Jason doesn't say much. When he gets mad he says nothing. This can be annoying when all a woman wants is a sparring partner but generally that for us, that is definitely the smart way to go. The great moments with him all are worth those uncomfortable moments in our relationship and outside of it. I've gotten a lot more than I had originally thought I would from this relationship but doesn't that count as one of life's great surprises. Looking back, I'm glad at my decision to fall in love and take chances. I was also standing at that fork in the road when I could have turned left or right. I'm glad I turned right. One last bit of knowledge that I'll incorporate. Judging a book by its cover is never a good idea so I highly advise taking a quick peek to see if its contents will change your life or even just change your day. You will be glad that you did.

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