Have you seen the Geico commercial where the gecko is on the state line where Virginia and Tennessee meet? He hops over the line and says, “I’m in Virginia. Now I'm in Tennessee.” Then, he straddles both states and tries to join them into one word: “Virginiasee” or “Teneginia.” I found myself watching TV one day and realizing that is my “aha moment.” I feel like the gecko. I can’t make one word for how I feel.
My mother is Italian, from Sicily. My father is Jamaican, from St. Catherine. But, who am I? Born into such strong, distinctive cultures and raised to split my time totally separate between the two, that's the question I ask myself everyday.
The two sides of my family are different in almost every aspect, from the smells of their houses to their religious beliefs and opinions on just about anything and everything. At Grandma Mel’s, a perfume of curry fills the house as she sings to Chaka Demus. At Mimi’s, it’s the sweet scent of spaghetti coated with homemade tomato sauce as she sings Billy Joel. Stereotypical but true descriptions. However, it’s how they view the world and what they value that has led me to not fully embrace or feel embraced by either culture and community.
Religion has been a sensitive subject since my infancy. After I was baptized in my father’s Unitarian Christian church, my mother’s Roman Catholic side opted for a do-over, rushing me to their Church to be re-baptized. Each church’s protocol perfectly compliments each family. For the Roman Catholics, it’s formality, tradition, and do as you’re told. For the Christians, it’s loud praise, dancing in the aisles, and do as you feel. Even their definitions of success are different. For the Jamaicans, it’s more important to find happiness than attend college. For the Italian side, it’s not even a question of if I will go to college. That is assumed. It’s what type of successful career will I enter: Medicine? Law? Business? It’s an expectation that I will do more and be better by some undefined comparison. At Mimi’s, the standard is to speak your mind. This often leads to loud disagreements and pointed arguments around the dinner table. At Grandma Mel’s, there is no chance that I would ever even think about doing that. You do not say anything that could hurt someone’s feelings. But, there’s really only one major difference that sets me on the search to find myself: race. For my black side of the family, they have experienced racism and discrimination. They view the world through that lens. For my white side, they struggle to understand that racism still exists and can’t see the world through that lens. For me, I’ve experienced racism for being part white and racism for being part black. Where does that leave me? I’m never fully accepted into one group.
I am one person living two lives, trying to please each side but trying to find my own identity at the same time. As with any family, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly for both sides. I have seen their moments of joy and moments of anger. I’ve experienced their pride and shame; their preferences and dislikes; their expectations and disappointments. Without even intending to, each has tried to get me to identify more with them. It’s taken me years to understand that I am comfortable knowing that I can’t please either side into being someone I’m not. I am thankful to know when to dance and when to kneel. I have learned when to argue and when to bite my tongue, when to sympathize with someone’s experiences and when to ask for information in order to do so. For the record, I’ll take curry chicken or spaghetti. Both are delicious. Unlike the cute little green gecko, I know the one word for me: Mikayla. What I am trying to do is make both parts of my world strong, independent, and supportive. Luckily for me, I’m unlike most others. I get to see the world from two very different points of view. As I said, I am thankful.