The Five Stages of Being Biracial (If You’re Me)

The Five Stages of Being Biracial (If You’re Me)

The Toast
2013-10-21

Jaya Sexena

1. Denial

It wasn’t that the idea of being biracial frustrated me, it was just that I didn’t think I was it.

Yes, I finally learned to write “Jaya Saxena,” but to a blank-slate of a five-year-old that combination of letters was just as random as any of my friends’ names. “Judith” looked weird too, right? “Denisa”? “Fiona”? I figured it was all arbitrary.

My family did not act like other immigrant or biracial families. Those kids had parents who spoke of siblings and childhoods in foreign countries with thick accents. They always seemed to be returning to those countries, or filling their households with decorations and music to make it feel like they had never left. They had kids who actually knew something about a “home country.” My house never felt like Talia’s house, where she’d switch between speaking to her dad in Hebrew, her mom in English, and then playing Aladdin on Sega Genesis with me.

My dad, who moved to Newark when he was 8, had long ago adopted a Jersey accent and demeanor, his actions indistinguishable from those of his Italian and Jewish neighbors. He cooked pork chops and pasta with meat sauce, and played country fiddle. He lit incense sometimes but so did lots of hippie parents. He hadn’t been back to India since before I was born.

My mom, with her freckles and red hair, was often mistaken for my Irish nanny. We can trace our first ancestor’s arrival to 1635, and by about 1740 everyone on her side had officially come over. She grew up on a farm and wasn’t afraid of killing the roaches that sometimes skittered around our apartment, and the only time she was called “exotic” was when she went to Scotland. Together, they were just my parents.

So I wasn’t biracial. I was a New Yorker, as if being both weren’t an option. I ate bagels and played handball and wore pants. My dad taught me how to play guitar and played me songs by Danny Kaye or The Muppets. Yes, sometimes my “dress up” outfits contained brightly colored silk and bangles, but those were just decorations. Yes, my grandma would make potatoes that came out yellow and were flecked with seeds, but she’d save a plate of spaghetti and slices of American cheese for me. They were Indian, not me, and that was normal…

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