Monday, March 09, 2009

Funny Story with a Meltingpot Twist

I was home in Milwaukee this past weekend, speaking at the Spring Writer's Festival hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It was a great time and I met this woman there who told me her story.

"I really related to your book, Kinky Gazpacho because I'm mixed," she said.

I looked at the woman who had skin the color of a cashew nut and straight brown hair with streaks of bottled red. Had I seen her on the street, I wouldn't have thought anything but White, so I had to ask.

"What is your mix?" I asked. (Isn't that an awkward question? How do you phrase that politely?)

"Well," she started, "We always grew up just thinking we were Italian. Mom was northern Italian and Dad was southern Italian. But my grandmother was really dark and she had all of these really strange customs and ate weird food. Finally, my father told us that his mother was Ethiopian

I laughed for a full minute when she told me that. Can you imagine? This brought to mind James McBride's wonderful memoir, The Color of Water where he tells the story of his Jewish mother passing for Black and telling anyone who asked that she was just light-skinded.

Do you have a story like that in your family? Please share.



Ola said...


I just finished reading your book and I enjoyed it simply for the fact that I related with your strong feelings and your outlook on other cultures as you were growing up. I was born in Guyana, South America and when my cousins would visit from England I always appointed myself as their tour guide only because I wanted to soak up every minute of their When I got to high school and they started teaching Spanish I became the same way towards the Spanish culture.

I also went through some of the same race issues, because when I came to the US I was often the only black kid in school. But because of my melting pot of a motherland (Guyana, known as the land of six peoples) I dealt with things just a bit differently.

Okay I'm rambling now but I wanted to say Thank you! for sharing your story with us!

P.S. That story is funnnnny. I don't have any such stories but did she say how long it took them to figure out the grandmother's ethnicity?

the prisoner's wife said...

THAT cause me a big chuckle. we have a substantial Ethiopian population in LA, i can't imagine an Ethiopia person passing for Italian. Then again, I never met any "dark" italians.

LT said...


Thanks for sharing. I always love to hear how other folks relate to my story. And never apologize for rambling :)

I hear ya. It does make you wonder, right?

Anonymous said...


I just bought the book HUNGRY WOMAN IN PARIS, by Josefina Lopez, the director of REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, and thought you should take a look too:

She lived in Paris for a few years, married a frenchman, moved back to LA and has two boys.

LT said...


Thanks for the book suggestion. I'll def. take a look!

ieishah said...

given the substantial population of italians in ethiopia during and after 2 colonisation attempts between 1890 and 1940, this link doesn't surprise me. my italian ex used to say that in the end, the occupation failed because italian soldiers couldn't keep their minds on the job. so many soldiers laid down their arms and then just, well, laid down. i'm sure this isn't an expert analysis but i'm kind of surprised i don't hear this link more often!

Anonymous said...

i can definitely this. i know an ethiopian family here in germany where the father is actually part italian. his first name is even giovanni. at least one of his daughters is also married to an italian.