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After Ernest Baker's essay about interracial relationships, "The Reality of Dating White Women When You're Black," ran on Gawker earlier this month we received hundreds of comments and emails objecting to, agreeing with, or otherwise responding to Baker. This week, we're publishing some of those responses as part of a conversation about race and relationships.
Thirteen years of dating boys outside my race and it took sitting down to write this essay to have the first, real conversation with my parents about interracial dating.
I used to say I didn't have a type, but if we go off consistency, I do. While I've dated other races, I'm mostly attracted to black men. My eyes and heart tend to steer me in that direction. I can't pinpoint physical features or characteristics of black men because that's not only wrong, it's just not the entire case. What I'm attracted to can be found in men of all races: strong arms (sense of protection), a great smile, nice build (healthy), ambitious, passionate, a sense of humor—a touch of sarcasm helps—and a kind heart.
I've dated other races aside from black men—my first and only boyfriend of two years was Korean. But I've never dated someone of my own ethnicity: Mexican. Dominican, yes. And I would say Colombian, but that courtship never blossomed into much after he came over my house and serenaded me with his acoustic guitar. My parents were more impressed by him than I was. I was 16, but not emo enough apparently.
Would I date a Mexican guy? Yes. Have I come across one that's caught my attention? No. I have strong Mexican men in my life, too—my father and my two brothers—that I hold close, respect, and admire. My brothers never seemed to have an opinion as to the type of men I dated, and were only concerned with how each guy treated me. They didn't connect one with the other. My dad has always been a quiet man, and his only insertion in conversations about my dating life: "Are you happy, mija?"
My parents, I should say, have never forbidden me from dating black men, or a man of any race, but their silence, more so my mother's, has been felt—it rendered each guy invisible. Time and again, after being introduced to a black guy I was dating, my mother either let out heavy sighs or foretold my future under her breath. "You're going to end up pregnant before you're married," she once said.
My parents were born and raised in Mexico. They were each other's first love.
My dad used his seasonal, strictly temporary passport for work and came to Arizona to pick fruit. But my grandfather—my mother's father—wasn't too fond of my dad. My dad knew that in order to ask for my mom's hand in marriage, he had to have a house ready for her. He couldn't work fast enough. He also knew that the American Dream was the dream he wanted to achieve for them. My mom knew her father wouldn't approve either way. My dad wasn't wealthy. And he was older. She's always said that he's 'mi media naranja' (a Spanish saying for soul mate). She knew if she wanted to be with my dad, she'd have to runaway with him.
So she ran.
Despite not knowing she was pregnant with my older brother at the time, she hid in a bunk in the back of my father's van and they crossed the border together. They settled in a largely Mexican neighborhood in San Jose, California. Then, when I was five-years old, they moved to Tracy, about an hour drive east of San Jose, where the population was, and remains, predominantly white.
The majority of what my parents know about other races they've learned through media or second-hand stories. Stories, which laced with racial stereotypes, were told continuously that they became truth. Those "stories" tell of black men leaving their women, and of black men being promiscuous and violent. My mother internalized all of this. While problematic, my parents' thinking was the thinking of their time. And, really, it roots deeper than my parents, my grandparents, and their parents before them.
Racial tension between Mexicans and blacks, especially on the west coast and in some parts of the south, is tied to an ugly history. Take the segregation and gang rivalry in Los Angeles or the hate crimes in southern states, like Texas and Atlanta. This past April, a Hispanic father attacked his 14-year-old daughter after she chose a 15-year-old black guy as her dancing partner for a pre-quinceañera party. In Georgia—where the Hispanic population has increased 130 percent from 1980 to 1995, and became the third largest state with migrating Hispanics and Latinos—there's been numerous hate crimes between Hispanics and blacks. In the fall of 2005, six Mexican immigrants were murdered when a group of black guys attempted to rob trailer parks known to house immigrant workers. Both minorities have been reported to confront more than cooperate in certain areas; reports have pinpointed competition for jobs as a factor.
What's crazy to me is that both groups, Mexicans and blacks, have been marginalized historically, and dealt with levels of oppression by systems, yet tension is between individuals. But it's not only about where and how it started; it may not even be right to think it started from any one place. There's a myriad of factors that are both onset by personal experience and exposure to what people see on television or read in the news. The curse is that those factors establish tradition.
I've experienced my share of racism and have had racial slurs thrown in my direction. Mostly, if not all, from white people. I've overheard conversations about me where people spewed hateful words because they didn't think I knew English.
As far as dating, I've encountered men who've thought of me as the Mexican woman that is there only to serve, speaks Spanish in bed, or has a connect to an inner drug cartel member. And those misconceptions were directed at me from men of all shades. Once, in 2011, my then-boyfriend and I left a photo of us, taken at an event, at a bodega by accident. When we came back to retrieve it, the guys behind the counter, which looked to be Latino, handed it to us ripped in half.
One thing I took away, but have yet to fully unpack, from my recent conversation with my mom is that I fear I may have heightened stereotypes, too. She mentioned how the majority of stories of heartbreak and depreciation I shared with her in my younger days—one of which was physically harmful—involved black men. But in actuality, it was me who was at fault. I was attempting to find love in a person I found attractive, consequences and all. I kept getting hurt by guys, a lot of which had to do with my belief in fairytale love. I'm a hopeless romantic to a fault. And although I've gone through bullshit in various relationships before, as many have, my hope is to find my own 'media naranja.'
My mom knows about most of the men I've dated, but she's only met the guys that have changed my life significantly, which I can count with one hand.
It's weird to mention, let alone, specify the physical features of the men I've dated when telling their stories, because the shitty experiences I've gone through weren't because of their color; it was because they weren't right for me. I was the naive one running toward any mirage of love I could find.
When it's more than one black guy I've had bad luck with, others—in this case my parents—see a pattern. But as wide-eyed as I used to be, it's more naive to think the times I've fallen short are attributed to a whole group of people.
My time with my boyfriend of two years, who was Korean, was my only "official" relationship and it was special. But we also had our downs. My mother adored, and still asks about him, but I want to believe that it's because he was the one (from the bunch) who called me his girlfriend, which also touches on another generational point. The way my mother was raised, a couple wasn't really a couple until the man asked the woman to be his girlfriend. While I don't necessarily agree with every part of that approach—the rules for dating are a lot less defined these days—it has influenced my thinking some. I was okay dating him until we fell into that label, until my mother mentioned that.
That experience taught me to keep my relationships close to the heart, because, ultimately, the heart wants what the heart wants. And that's something that my parents and myself neither read about in the paper nor saw on television, but experienced first hand.
Erika Ramirez is the senior editor of Billboard.com, where she spearheads the R&B/Hip-Hop column, The Juice. She has contributed to Rolling Stone, New York, MTV RapFix and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @3rika.