You may ask why I have done little (before this post) to correct their thinking. Honestly, I had not yet prepared myself for people's spirited reactions to the news that I am the kind of Christian Puerto Rican woman who becomes impregnated with a Muslim Yemeni’s child; and the father is not my life partner. I can assure you that someone will inevitably flip over my sexual “sins” and Equis’ bi-racial identity.
I imagine that, upon finding out, one person will look at another with wide concerned eyes and comment: 1) Equis is Middle Eastern!; 2) But Equis looks like Ex-Boyfriend! No? So what does his father look like?; 3) That is pitiful, pathetic, disappointing and ____ (insert more negative adjectives here). I half expect to overhear someone question, at Equis’ first birthday party, “It wasn’t enough for her to be a single unwed mother? She had to get knocked up by an Arabic Muslim too?” Then, I will tap their shoulder and remind them that Arabic is a language, not a culture, and that Muslim is not a definition of evil.
Now, maybe the people in my community will be angry with me for not expecting only the best from them. Given my life experiences, though, I find it hard to believe that people will accept this information about me and my son with ease and without judgment. ...
Secondly, I have suffered many judgments regarding "sexual impropriety" over the years. Narrowed eyes and concerned questions expressed clear disagreement with my decisions: at age 15, “Do NOT let your boyfriend hug you from the back like that!” and “Your skirt is too short;” at age 16, “Because you did that (IT), you can’t sing on the Worship Team tonight;” at ages 17 and 18, “I am praying that my tears in your hair will bless you with wisdom and lead you to break up with your Muslim boyfriend;” and from ages 21 to 23, “You live with your older boyfriend in the Bronx?!”
After so many years of navigating the guilt-ways of my mostly Christian Puerto Rican world, I have learned how to deal with the judgmental stares and awkward questions. (Nowadays, I just give vague answers, nod and smile, then pretend I didn’t just evade those probing questions about being married and living on my own.) “But,” I ask myself, “Can Equis survive such imminent interactions unscathed?”
Ultimately, I agonize less over the impact that people’s “knowing” will have on me than about the social, emotional and psychological impact it will have on my son. Questions about how Equis will fare in this society as a Puerto Rican-Yemeni / Yemeni-Puerto Rican plague my mind. Will people with a disdain for Muslims physically assault him because he is Arab? (Apparently, idiots still confuse the two.) Will the police want to question him, as they have done to American-Arab friends of mine, because of his heritage? Will people teach Equis to fear his father? I also worry that those who proclaim to “walk in the ways of righteousness” will view Equis as an illegitimate child and tell him so. I don’t want Equis to feel the need to vaguely move his head, smile and lie to people when they ask him about his origins.
As much as I worry about my son’s lot in life, I do not want him to live in fear of fully living. Growing up and living as a person of color in America is hard enough; I'd rather not encourage identity-anxiety at home as well. Keeping secrets (even by omission) easily breeds shame (and my son should only feel shame on the day he’s old enough to meaningfully write in my Mother‘s Day card and doesn't.) I cannot teach Equis much Arabic or Spanish or force him to believe in one religion over another, but I can raise him to be proud of his dual heritage.
I intend to do so by consistently affirming my son's sense of self and by confidently informing my community that I expect them to celebrate him no matter what. If my ex can love and accept Equis for who he is, my community can too. Otherwise, you have NO place our lives.