On Declaring Your Ethnicity

In the process of applying for jobs this past year, I’ve filled out a lot of Equal Opportunities Monitoring Forms. These forms ask you to declare the basic categorisable information about you as a person: gender, sexual orientation, date of birth, religious affiliation, disability, and ethnicity.

I declare as ‘white’. I have white skin, and my bloodline is nearly 3/4 European. But I’m also 1/4 Mexican. I get that from my Grandpa and it’s a part of me that I am quite proud of. My Grandpa died when I was 7 years old so I didn’t get to know him very well, but I do know that he was a hard-working, caring family man. He didn’t come from a lot of money but worked his way up through college and two careers, succeeding in a society filled with white privilege.

After my blog post Informing My American Identity; My Experience of White Privilege and The Choice to be an Ally my Grandma shared with me some of my Grandpa’s experiences that I didn’t know about. The fact that he faced discrimination and shame about the colour of his skin and background. The fact that he worried that his wife and children would be discriminated against when people saw their last name, Valdez.

My sense of self/identity has undeniably been influenced by this figure in my life. But I am far removed from the adversities and challenges he faced. I have difficulty in comprehending that the difference in my appearance to my Grandpa’s is something that gives me privileges that he didn’t have. That makes me sad. (And ironically looking more Mexican is something I’ve always wished for.)

I would love for him to know that rather than being ashamed or discriminated against, I am proud to share his last name and I want to connect to his culture. I think having these mixtures are interesting and beautiful.

So as I’m filling out these forms I wonder if I’m not licensed to declare that part of me – because I don’t look dark-skinned? I have a cousin who is 3/4 White-European and 1/4 Persian who is much darker than me and even more so than her mom who is 1/2 Persian. Will she face more discrimination in her life, while being the same percentage ‘non-white’ that I am? Or on the other hand will she have more pride and confidence in declaring her non-white heritage, while I am doubted for saying I’m part Mexican?

Talking about the way genes pan out is a whole other conversation which I can’t pretend to be informed on. But what I do know is that this categorisation of our ethnicities based on our colouring/parents can limit how we identify and is perhaps becoming out-dated. I know the practical reasons these forms exist and for simplicity’s sake, yes I am ‘white’. But ethnicity, race, nationality, citizenship, culture, background… these categories are over-lapping anyway. How do you categorise yourself if you aren’t distinctly one thing?

Hailey Holl-Valdez. White ‘Other’: White skin, European heritage (mainly German), American born, American-British dual Citizenship,  1/4 Mexican.

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This blog post was written before my post Embracing Shifting Identities – however given the timing of the EU Referendum and my visit to the talk on Identity in Britain Today I decided to post this one as a follow-up to that discussion.

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2 thoughts on “On Declaring Your Ethnicity

  1. Don’t forget your Native American background via your grandfather, Jerry Holl. Pam Holl has done some family genealogy. You might check it out with her. I am Cherokee-partly-through my paternal line. Ancestry is interesting.

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