I keep a unique set of IDs in my wallet at all times.
I only use them occasionally—sometimes at a restaurant or on the job—I almost pulled them out most recently at Home Depot.
I’ve been slightly obsessed with decorating our new apartment to make it look stylish. Our old place was small and crowded. Now that we have a beautiful apartment, I want it to look as nice as possible.
So we go to Home Depot to get keys made and as we enter the warehouse, I dart off toward the plant section in a search for succulents, leaving Josh behind.
We meet up again near the patio furniture, and an older woman with a familiar face asks us if we need help. I glance down at the tag on her shirt—“ich spreche Deutsch”—and I instinctually reach for my wallet.
Because inside, I have two IDs in the form of photos I keep especially for occasions such as when I meet other German folk. One is a picture of my mother. The other is a picture of my Oma.
The scene usually plays out like this:
Me: “Oh you’re German? So am I! My mother is from Germany.”
German person: “Oh that’s nice…”
Me: *Rumbles around in my wallet and produces the photos* “See, that’s my Mutti and that’s my Oma!”
German person: *Face lights up* “Oh you mean GERMAN! How wonderful!”
Funny, every time I swear I say German, but maybe they just misunderstand me.
You see, the interesting part about my mixture is while most people can tell I’m part African American, the other ethnicity I am I can never pass for. Some mixed people, depending on your mix, can take more features from one parent than the other. African American has some pretty strong genetics it so I ended up with brown skin, curly hair, and wide hips.
In college I once got coffee with a woman who was just my mix: black and German. My nursing major friends were so excited to tell me their instructor was “just like me,” and, wanting to know more about her experiences being the same mixture, I asked her to grab Starbucks one day after class.
Surprisingly, a cream-skinned woman with wavy hair wearing a purple shawl draped around her shoulders and chest walked up to me. I was slightly taken aback. Although we were the same mix, our genes produced two totally different interpretations of black/German.
When I studied abroad in Spain in 2010, I didn’t bring my IDs with me, but I continued to tell people my mother was European whenever I could. I remember showing my host mom a photo of my real mom to which she exclaimed, “Oh si! Ella se parece a una Alemana!”
Without the IDs, though, I don’t think some people would believe I’m half European. I don’t have an accent. I have an American passport, and I don’t look particularly German.
Sometimes I wish there was something about my physical appearance that showed the rest of the world that I’m German so that other Germans could instantly connect with me. Because despite how much pride I have in both my heritages, I feel more distance between me and Deutschland than just the physical 7,200 miles.
I met a girl abroad who faced a similar yet opposite struggle. Adriana was Peruvian/ German and didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. She studied Spanish in school and attended La Universidad de Salamanca that same summer to learn her language and get in touch with her Latin roots.
To this day, she inspires me.
She is no less Peruvian than I am German in genetic makeup or cultural measurement.
So maybe physical appearance isn’t the end-all when it comes to how “German” you are. Because at the end of the day, I was raised by a woman who spoke English as a second language well enough to raise a writer, who grew up receiving a schultüte on her first day of school, and who raised American children by German standards, always pushing us to be better and never letting us give up on ourselves.