I was recently taking a standardized test where, before the actual exam, I was asked to provide general information about myself. It was nothing too out of the ordinary, all standardized tests ask questions about your education level and that of your parents. But then I got to a very different question. One where I was asked to identify my ethnicity. I have always been confronted with this question. What do I mark? White or Hispanic? One or the other, not both.
Some background about me. I am ethically mixed. My mom is an immigrant from Guatemala. My dad is Caucasian American. Our home culture was mostly Hispanic. We spoke Spanish. Black beans were often on the stove while Spanish worship music or the current telenovela (Spanish soap operas) played in the background. My heart and my home felt very Hispanic and Latina.
In Long Beach, where I grew up, being a minority wasn’t bad or teased. I had friends with roots all over the world. No one looked quite like me, but everyone was different. Although, because I’m don’t fit what’s assumed to be how Hispanics look, and my last name is English, I grew up feeling disjointed. Internally I felt Hispanic, but the outside world didn’t easily recognize me as one.
I didn’t become aware how normal this disjunction had become to me until I was working on a team where my mixed background was identified and celebrated. Questions were asked, and I was challenged to see how my two roots had influenced my world perspective. The space fostered for me there allowed for me to confront and wrestle with what being bi-ethic meant and looked like for me.
During this time that I realized that these two parts of me don’t have to be at odds with each other. I can become a connecting force between these two cultures. Trying to connect two such different things may seem daunting but I have a model in Christ of someone who was caught between two, even greater disparate identities. Jesus is at home in heaven and earth. He is God and man. And while no two identities could seem further apart, they are both part of him.
Where I struggle to find the balance between my two roots Jesus, in his perfection, knows how to fully be both. He isn’t a demi-god, half of each of his roots. He is fully man, and fully God. He had a mom, a childhood, and siblings (Luke 2:7, Mark 6:3). But is God, too. Colossians 2:9 also says that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”
He experienced the rejection of who He was. He experienced the fullness of rejection and isolation over the identity that He claimed. He was taken to a cross and killed because people were so strongly opposed to his mixed identity being true (Matthew 26:63-66).
What is beautiful and comforting to me about Jesus’s mixed identity, is that it isn’t without purpose. In being fully man and fully God He built a bridge for us. Because Jesus is man AND God, we get to know God through him. In getting to know Jesus, we can get to know God and what man was created to be. He embodies a bridge for us and models what being a bridge between two different cultures can be.
To this day, I struggle with my ethnic identity. In Latino spaces, I still can feel the need to defend my Hispanic identity and in majority culture spaces I can feel incomplete and misunderstood. This place, being caught between the two can be one of discomfort and pain. I am also learning, though, that it can become a beautiful one. I may be somewhere between these two cultures, but I don’t have to be torn between the two, rather, I can learn to be like Jesus. I can be a bridge, a means of connecting the two for others. What a comfort it is to know that we have a God with whom we can relate even in the confusing messiness that is ethnicity, culture, and identity.