The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Finding Friends Who Accept Me
I’m part white, part Latina, and a Republican
Anonymous
headshot

Names have been changed.

I come from a biracial family. My dad is white; his ancestors came from Wales and Germany. My mom is Puerto Rican. I hadn’t thought much about being biracial before I got to high school. I knew that I looked a lot like my dad and had a lot of my mom’s personality traits. I was proud of all my cultures.

When I was a freshman, I was adopted into a new friend group of three girls and two boys. I started going to lunch with them. Sophia is Jamaican. Anna and Lanie are African-American. Isaiah is white, and the other boy, Ken, is 3/4 white and 1/4 Japanese.

Race popped up in a lot of our conversations. The group often talked negatively about white people. For example, Lanie often referenced one “white teacher who couldn’t stop coughing no matter how hard she tried.” Ken talked about “that old, white teacher who wrote a book about race as if he knew anything about racism.” They collectively complained that there weren’t enough staff members of color.

In fact, I think my school tries to embrace diversity. We have a lot of programs, classes, and clubs such as social justice class, culture club, and the Black Student Union. But I didn’t say anything to my friends because I felt like I wasn’t a respected voice in the group. In fact, they never asked me my

opinion although they often had hearty discussions during lunch. They seemed to see me as the white girl who was like the white teachers they complained about. They’d make comments about me living on Manhattan’s East Side, which is known as a rich, white area. Or my music taste, which they stereotyped as country even though I listened to the same slow jams they did.

False Version of Me

I didn’t like how they spoke about white people. It made me feel uncomfortable and insecure. But I stayed in the group because I didn’t have any other friends at school.

To feel more accepted into the group, I decided to play up my Puerto Rican heritage. During lunch and after school, I blasted Marc Anthony songs and other Latin songs I grew up listening to. I didn’t know Spanish, but I said little phrases my mom used like “ai, bendito...eres tan linda” (my goodness...you’re so cute) and “yo quiero mucho” (I love it!). My normal look had been boyfriend jeans, sweats, and T-shirts, but now I dressed differently, in what I thought a stereotypical Latina wore: Jordans, tight jeans, and crop tops.

My friends liked this version of me, so I kept it up although I wasn’t feeling true to myself. Before, hanging out at lunch had been my only interaction with them. Now I was invited to Lanie’s birthday party, to Isaiah’s house to watch movies, and to go sneaker shopping with the girls after school.

I was getting my nails done on a Tuesday night when I got a call.

“Hello, Lanie? Is everything OK?”

Lanie laughed, “Uh, yeah. I’m waiting for the bus.”

“Oh. Why’d you call?” I asked.

“I just wanted to talk,” she laughed. She just wanted to talk? She’d never even called me before. I didn’t waste the opportunity and I just kept talking.

Later that night, I got a call from Sophia. She just wanted to talk too.

“What are you doing?” Sophia asked.

“Just math homework,” I laughed nervously.

She laughed too. “We’re in the same algebra class, right? Let’s do it together. We can get it done in an hour if we divide up the work.” I was ecstatic.

I found every excuse to keep talking to Sophia that night. We created inside jokes, and she never brought up race. It felt like a normal, healthy friendship.

image by YC-Art Dept

All because I had taken on a Latina identity.

Rejected for My Politics

But this acceptance was short-lived. I’m a Republican, and my friends were Democrats. Once Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for president, things got tense between us.

“So Nina, why do you like Trump if he’s going to send your family back over the border?” Ken asked.

I furrowed my eyebrows. “What are you talking about? Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S.”

“No, I mean Mexico,” he giggled. I rolled my eyes. Ken always joked that I was Mexican because, he said, “there isn’t a difference anyway.”

After Trump won the election, the invitations after school stopped. There were no more phone calls. They even made up reasons not to have lunch with me.

They had hurt me, and I knew they weren’t being nice or fair, but I still wanted to belong. I sulked around school with my headphones on to avoid talking to people. Then I would go home to cry.

Optimism for Both of Us

One day at lunch, a couple of months later, I saw a girl from my Model U.N. class, Diane, walking back to the school by herself. I found the confidence to ask her if she wanted to eat with me. She said yes. I felt a twinge of excitement. For the first time in months, I wasn’t going to have to eat lunch alone.

The topic of why we were both alone came up and I was honest about my situation. I was surprised Diane didn’t judge me. “Friends suck sometimes,” she said.

Diane said she lost her friends because they thought she was too negative. “I was raised to think of a poor outcome and try to prevent it before it happens.”

“Well, I have enough optimism for the both of us,” I said.

She smiled and we talked about other things, like her obsession with dogs and anime and if she was going to dye her hair red again this summer. Race, politics, and my appearance didn’t come up. I was relieved.

A couple of weeks later, a kid from my advisory, Pete, asked where I was going to lunch. He said that he lost his friend group because he had just broken up with his girlfriend and they were mainly her friends.

The three of us ate lunch together every day. Race rarely came up, and when it did, we were all interested and supportive of each other’s ideas. Sometimes Diane makes Chinese noodles with different spices and flavors I’ve never tried before. I admire the way she takes such pride in her culture’s foods, and her joy in telling me about them.

When I said I was excited about the Puerto Rican Day Parade coming up, Diane wanted to know what it was like. I talked about the colors, blasting salsa music, and dancing in the street.

Diane and Pete don’t make fun of how white I am or compare me to other white students. They don’t assume that because I live on Manhattan’s East Side I’m automatically rich.

With my old friends, I felt like I was a fulfilling a role—that of the generic Latina. With Diane and Pete, I don’t need to stay in that box. Now I can share all of me, not just the part I think they’ll approve of. What’s more, they don’t make me feel bad about looking white.

We laugh at jokes, not each other. The only times Pete and Diane ever tease me is when I eat my food in a funny way because my braces have been tightened.

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(NYC-2019-01-05)