exotic

I get a lot of stares. people rushing past me somehow find a moment to give me a lingering gaze. it’s beyond me in twentyfifteen because how futuristic does that sound, right? I guess growing up it was more subtle. I was odd in a class of privileged kids but- hmm, retrospectively, I guess I stuck out. I remember my family not knowing how to deal with my hair so I’d end up with this Peter Pan jive that even the boys thought looked boyish. They’d try really hard to make it straight so that I’d fit in with the rest of the girls. slick, straight hair was coveted just as badly as tamagotchi’s or snap bracelets. So in turn I grew up hiding the natural curl of my hair. I would use gel to plaster it to my skull like a cap. Gel, right!? Fuck. I remember about 5th grade, I started making up where I was from. I’d go from Brazil to Morocco in one week. I think that’s one of the perks of being racially ambiguous. it’s easy because everyone is so unabashedly ignorant. I mean, it’s rampant; growing up being mixed was one of two things: exotic (like a fucking lemur) or shameful (like a genetic mistake). I still cringe at the word exotic. It still fucks me up. Exotic, yeah? Put me in a zoo. It’s weird when you grow up and you put together that someone can take one look at you and size you up based on the texture of your hair, the color of your eyes, the shape of your nose and (what they seem to focus on the most..) the shade of your skin. not even the color anymore but the SHADE. How white?? how brown?? how black?? how pale?? Are you auburn or sienna?? Are you white white or white beige? snap judgement (like a snap bracelet) and they reject you. They’ve made up their minds. You realize that when they look at you, what they see is unclean- dirty. I must’ve come to that conclusion around 12.. our black neighbor asked my grandmother where my father was from (he’s dead. my dad, I mean. and Arab for the record) my grandmother looked at me and looked at him and snapped back in disgust “Well he certainly wasn’t black, we’re not sure why she’s so.. exotic..” I still recall how the curious smile drained from his face into the sewer near by. I wanted to go with it, fall into the drain from the shame in the pit of my stomach but I was stuck there, constantly reminded me we were “descendants of Spaniard royalty” and how that blood could never be marred. No matter who my father was.. she pulled me away from the neighbor and I looked down at our hands as she shuffled us off. I’d never noticed how much darker I was, hands entwined- we were a caramel vanilla swirl. It all sounds so batshit to me now but I have that moment of cruel absurdity to thank. it was the little kernel that popped into a social ambush. 

 Sheila C.

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37 thoughts on “exotic

  1. Being mixed is an interesting experience. I wouldn’t want to be anything else, but it came with an odd feeling of displacement, especially as a child. My favorite was being told by my white friends that I didn’t act asian, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

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    1. It’s insane, isn’t? both sides will shun you for not being enough of either. I really wanted to start this series because of that. I don’t think anyone really understands (unless they’ve lived it) how difficult that displacement can be.. anyway, thanks for sharing your side with me.

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  2. I’m about as Irish as you can be, not red haired and pale skinned but green eyed and tanned. My daughters are all Irish from my side and half Italian, half Nigerian from their mother’s. They’re the most beautiful girls in the world and my grandsons, Fionn and Brody are the pride of my life. I always told my kids to never allow their neighbourhood be the limit of their imagination. Your poetry tells me you won’t , either, even if it gets you down, now and then.

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    1. man. that’s beautiful. I bet your girls are absolutely gorgeous and I’m sure you make them feel like that everyday. That’s perfect advice. I love hearing things like this.. it restores my faith in humanity, you know. I honestly wanted to document the story and see what stirred up in people and myself, I’m really happy with this beginning of it.. thank you again for sharing.

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      1. Check out my poem, No Rules. It’s about a trip I made with my daughters when they were 5 and 8, shortly after the break up of my marriage. We took off in a Mini, into the wild, west of Ireland. Hannah and Holly, now 29 and 26, remain two of my closest friends

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  3. We’ve woven a web, you and I,
    attached to the world, for no matter
    how long, inscribed, though poorly, for
    scant eyes, still, as bright a love aura as
    has ever glowed, tightly wound around
    our hearts, yet soaring miles above
    Moodung’s fog to warm cold February.
    Sparks fly off a round-rock fire rarely seen
    in these parts. We laugh, it feels like we
    shouldn’t be here on a cold winter night,
    just a few meters from trails so packed
    during the day. This charge will never
    leave. We’ve marked this space but must
    go to where the stars shine, deer run, art springs.
    Keep my heart in your brain, words in your hair.
    Matched lifelong yearning bursts in my hand,
    fluorescent. Quick, pack what you need, let’s
    flee! live life in the positive zone, expand
    what we enjoy together, bound by the luck
    that brought us this far. Where to next?

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  4. Beautifully written. My daughter was dark, not light enough to be called ‘exotic.’ I, on the other hand am very white and blue eyed. I could never believe how insensitive people were when they spoke to her. I am sorry that you had to go through that.

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  5. This is very interesting and I thank you for shedding light on the topic. Its weird the things that people do to people based on differences, Im trying to write something on the topic myself but more towards my truth. But I definitely look forward to your posts.

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  6. I will never understand people who judge others by the colour of their skin. I agree with garychipp, this is very raw and I quite like it. I’m white, though I don’t know much about my actual ethnicity and my partner is first nations so our children are mixed. I’ve had people look me and my children up and down then remark “They must get their colouring from their dad?”

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  7. Thank you for writing this Sheila, I think it’s important when we see a lot of “black/white” issues or white/People of Color issues that the voices of us with less obviously defined lines still get heard especially when many of us are still POCs we just might not be the shade some would prefer to be included. Look forward to reading more. And maybe I’ll touch on some of those issues on my own blog as well 🙂

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  8. Beautifully written from the heart. I fully understand your feelings, I can’t understand how there are still so many people in this world who make an issue out of skin colour. People talk of ‘race’, I believe, as humans, we are all of the same race, humanity, as brothers and sisters. So much strife is caused by bigotry and lack of understanding.

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  9. When I was young people would spit the word “half-breed” like an expletive, and I thought, how cruel, how ugly. My daughter is mixed. She is just as much a person, has just as many rights as anyone. And it’s my opinion, whatever that’s worth, that the mixed races among us are the more beautiful.

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  10. Sheila my darling, you are the past, the present, the future and all the miracles in between. You’re beautiful. You’re poetry speaks for you. Feel so very Loved, BE Blessed ❤ Heart hug!!! Hayley

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  11. I come from the Caribbean, where most people are all mixed up anyway, but yeah, there’s still a lot of what you described ging on. But it’s the hair, perhaps even more than the skin tone, taht;s crucial. Sigh…it’s disturbing that in 2015 we still can’t “emancipate ourselves from mental slaveryracial

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  12. Oops, this accidentally posted before I completed the sentence…”it’s disturbing that in 2015 we still can’t “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery” (Bob Marley).

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    1. I’m also from the Caribbean, well half.. haha, I live in Miami, FL now. It is disturbing but I know it’s helpful to hear about people’s experiences and talk about it. Thanks for reading this and my some of my poems. I appreciate the Marley quote. 🙂

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      1. I meant it’s disturbing to see how far we’ve come, yet how entrenched certain ideas remain. And yes, it’s useful t share thoughts and experiences. It makes me realize that we have to put even more effort into bringing different stores and perspectives to the table.

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