“People need to be willing to seek to understand the oppressed. If you have not grown up with a minority’s mindset, you have no right to force your opinion or your ideals on them,”
“Hey, what are you mixed with?”
A pause. Eyes shift. A throat clears. The often notorious conversation starter used when engaging with those of a multi-racial background. For some, it takes a few moments to consider whether or not they should open that door just to provide a more complicated answer. Is it worth it to run the risk of receiving another puzzled look — or even worse — a blank stare?
“Joy, that was awkward, why did you ask that?” A friend asked after witnessing this conversation take place. But Joy didn’t see an issue with this. After all, other people asked her this exact question all the time. In fact, she delighted in answering.
Joy Garcia comes from a unique background of her own. Her mother is both Native American and white, while her father is Latino — both Mexican and Spanish. With so much history and so many different perspectives in one family, Joy understands the difficulty of trying to contain the many places she comes from into one identity.
“I feel like for myself,” she begins to explain, “I definitely grew up more with an identity of I’m still white… But something I’m realizing more and more, even my dad’s side of the family… considered themselves white growing up. In the 50’s and 60’s, this was just the culture, even though they were Mexican and Spanish, and had a huge cultural background, they decided they would take up the white culture. They lived in a highly distinct Black and white community, and they decided they would be a part of the white
community,” she describes.
But as more years have passed, Joy has learned to not only treasure her identities, but to carry on the cultures she’d been passed down.
“I guess because I am just proud of the cultures that I get to be a part of and that get to identify as. But I also think mixed people are beautiful, so it’s a compliment when someone asks,” she admits, laughing.
Joy graduated last fall from Haskell University, a university founded to recognize the Native American Tribes of the United States located in Lawrence, Kansas.
“It is a beauty and a struggle,” she shares. “For myself, being at a Native American university is it’s own experience. Because it is a combination of a bunch of Native American tribes… and it is a cool thing because within a lot of Native American tribes there is strife between tribes, and at this school, all tribes come together.”
Attending a predominantly Native American school has brought challenges for Joy. In this environment, being multicultural was not so much a matter of intrigue or celebration as it was a force of division amongst students.
“I think each minority culture has their own struggle to identify who they are, but for myself, I am only 1/32nd Native American… And then you have Native Americans who are full blood and grew up traditionally. So I think that begs the whole question of what does it mean to be Native American? They know the ways. They know the mindset; the Native American struggle,” she continues.
Where is the line between belonging, and merely onlooking? Joy’s response to this challenge is one of humility and self-awareness to her place amid the social landscape. She chooses her words carefully as she speaks a difficult truth.
“I think there was a level of reality that on the outside I will not be able to connect with certain
because of the whiteness of my skin. Or the way I grew up… but I need to be willing to accept that because to understand the frustration, and oppression, and historical trauma that has gone from generation to generation. I don’t deserve to be like, I completely get what you’re going through,” she says.
Although she admits she may not fully understand the complexity of someone else’s experience, Joy connects with others by offering them something even more important: respect.
“People need to be willing to seek to understand the oppressed. If you have not grown up with a minority’s mindset, you have no right to force your opinion or your ideals on them,” she continues.
There are more ways than just conversing with others that she puts this value into practice. Joy fearlessly continues to put herself in the vulnerable position to respect diversity through action, whether by attending Haskell, engaging in the community, or serving abroad.
“You are a being on this earth, your soul is on this earth. One human being has just as many rights as any other human being on this earth,” she concludes, “I feel it is my duty to hear them out, and completely respect where they are coming from.”
Joy Garcia | Human Being
Written by Abi Floresca