For the first thirty-two years of my life, I thought I was a quarter Native American. Actually, for the first fifteen years I thought I was a quarter Indian, but sometime in the nineties it became racist to call it that, so I to switched to Native American.
I remember my paternal grandmother wearing her hair in long black braids. She was tall and had high cheekbones and a long nose. Plus, my parents told me that I was a quarter Indian. Or, my dad told me, and my mom noncommittally agreed.
I mentioned it to my husband after we’d been dating a few weeks. “Really?!” he exclaimed. “Do you get scholarships for that?”
“Nah,” I replied. “It’s no big deal, really,” trying to act all casual about it. Plus, it had never dawned on me to try to get a scholarship out of the deal and I felt kind of silly.
“Are we, like, an interracial couple?” he wanted to know.
“I guess,” I said, feeling instantly cooler.
So for the first ten years of our marriage, we lived as an interracial couple. What that meant was that whenever someone commented on how tan I was, Benson proudly told them, “She’s a quarter Native American!” And the person would go, “Really?! Did you get scholarships for that?”
And I’d be like, “Nah.”
A few months after our ten-year anniversary, my husband and I flew to Florida to see my dad. It was the first time I’d seen him in about thirteen years, and Benson had never met the man. So Dad picked us up from the airport, shook Benson’s hand, and drove us around Florida pointing out his friends’ houses and introducing us to his neighbor and the dog he and his neighbor share (whole different blog post there).
We only had twenty-four hours together, and I wanted to get to know my dad better during the short time we had, so after eating pizza that night, we sat on the couch and I started asking my dad questions. I wanted to know the names of my aunts and uncles and who was alive and who had died and when was my dad in the war (“And while we’re at it, do I have any siblings I don’t know about?” to which the answer was no) and where my dad was born.
After I exhausted those questions and had a decent timeline of his life sketched out in my journal, I asked (referring to my paternal grandmother), “Was MoMo Indian?” (My dad didn’t get the memo that “Indian” became racist in the nineties, so I had to speak his language. You can sue me later.)
Now, while I was asking all these questions, my sweet husband was filming, so what I’m about to write is the conversation verbatim.
Me: Was MoMo Indian?
Dad: She was – I don’t know how that – Uncle Hugh Warren – he rode a paint horse with a leather hat. Expensive clothes with a feather stuck in his hat.
Dad: Uncle Hugh Warren!
Me: And he was?
Dad: Mother’s uncle on her mother’s side. I think Mary was her name.
Me (trying to find out if this Uncle Warren was Indian): So he was –
Dad: My great-uncle.
Me: He was Indian?
Dad: I think he was. There’s a lot of Indian blood. And there was a mix-up on the Chickasaws and Choctaws. I think they were mixed breed, because they got a long pretty well.
Then he went on to tell me how one of the groups used to steal liquor from the other group.
So, what he was saying was . . . I don’t even know what he was saying. And I sure wasn’t going to ask him to explain himself because dude’s got a temper.
For all I know, I’m Filipino.
Me and Benson on our ten-year anniversary, still thinking we’re all interracial and hip:
Me and my possibly Indian father in our non-traditional Native American garb:
In conclusion, I’m possibly a solid eighth Native American and proud of every ounce. And I’m really glad I never tried to land those scholarships.