Living in fear of “The Box”

Shari Theresia

As far back as I can remember I have feared “the box.”

When I was younger, the choices were a little easier to decide, it was either “black” or “white,” but today it seems that even though there are more races to choose from there are still none that I can identify with.

The box is on almost every school test that I can remember. I saw my worst enemy on standardized testing, the SAT and even on job applications when I reached the college level.

The box I’m referring to is the one that has to be bubbled in and contains the headline “please choose one.”

In elementary school my little sister and I were one of maybe five black students that attended my elementary school.

All my friends were white, so naturally I wanted to be white.

I remember once when I was younger I was watching “Cinderella” and the birds tied her hair into a bow.

They did it with such ease and I was so excited to ask my mom to do my hair like that for school the next morning.

I just knew all my friends were going to be in awe and for once I would look like them, now I could really fit in.

But, to my disappointment my mom said it couldn’t be done because my hair “didn’t work like that.”

That is probably where it all started. I was so confused.

I mean, my best friends always had their hair up in loose ponytails so why couldn’t I?

I never thought I was a little white girl but at that point I definitely wanted to be one.

My run in with not being Cinderella confirmed that I wasn’t white and neither could I be white. So when I had to fill out forms at that young age I always checked “black.”

As I grew older I started to understand my family background more and this sadly led to more confusion. Both of my biological parents were born and raised in Panama.

Yes, the Hispanic country in Central America best known for the Panama Canal. So now I’m Hispanic.

My mom and dad are both fluent Spanish speakers and have such heavy accents that most friends in my life find it hard to understand them.

It still surprises me to this day because they sound perfectly clear to me but I guess it’s because I’m used to it.

Ok, so my skin color is “black” and my parents are Panamanian, so am I a “blackamanian?”

If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate because that isn’t one my choices, so again I’m lost.

I was born in the capital better known as Washington, D.C., I’m a citizen of the United States, I don’t speak fluent Spanish and I wasn’t born or raised in Panama but I still feel that I am a Panamanian.

In high school there was more diversity and more people who looked like me.

Although most of my childhood I grew up with white people, I felt more of a sense of belonging with the black people, so that is who I spent most of my time with.

I no longer had to explain my hair or my music. My black friends understood, most of the time.

I got a break from all the hair issues but now I had to deal with all the food issues.

My parents are from Panama, so we always ate Hispanic food like arroz con pollo or chile con carne.

My mom doesn’t even believe in snacks, everything in our home has to be cooked.

So when my black friends would ask if I had ever had typical black foods like peach cobbler, grits or cornbread, I would have to put my pride to the side and say no.

To this day I haven’t had peach cobbler (but my hairdresser said she is going to make me some before Christmas) or grits, although I have recently tried cornbread and it’s pretty amazing.

In high school I thought I had a better chance at college if I checked the “black” box, and to be honest, I thought white people were now unfortunate because they didn’t have laws forcing colleges to accept them.

It’s funny how dumb you are when you haven’t truly experienced life outside the one you have been living for so long.

Today I still have issues with who I am. When someone I don’t know asks about my race, I just keep it simple and say black.

If someone tries to get to know me or notices my last name, Theresia, I used to say my parents are Panamanian but now I find it easier to claim what I’ve known my whole life, claim that I am Panamanian.

The whole box issue isn’t solved either.

In college I’ve noticed they now have a box that says “black non-Hispanic” but there is no “black Hispanic” option.

Better yet, why can’t they let you choose more than just one box?

I recently made the decision to just skip the box completely and it definitely makes my life less complicated and I feel somewhat rebellious by doing so.

Oh, and if I could find out who is in charge of making the selections to choose from I would definitely give them a call or write them a letter because I am sure there are plenty of students out there just like me that are just as confused.

They probably aren’t as crazy about it as I am, but I’m sure they want to see a little change.


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