These past few days have been incredibly reflective for me on a subject that I don't usually talk about - my race and what it means to be mixed while in the context of South Africa. Knowing that there is a group of people here classified as a race and culture on their own only because of the fact that they are "mixed-race" is definitely interesting to me, because I am. These instances have made me realize that when visiting another country the people see you, and all of you. No matter what walls you might have put up to the world, no one can see that.
On Saturday, our group went down the street to hang-out and have a braai (bbq) at Charles' house - someone who Interstudy officially calls a "student mentor" but who we call a great friend. One of his friends was over there and through conversation we eventually came onto the topic of race. He asked what I was (a common question) and I asked him to guess. Puerto Rican, Columbian, Moroccan were his first tries. After explaining that I was a rainbow of Black, White, and Native American, he asked in response: "soo, are you coloured?" It was my understanding that Coloured means that you are mixed within Africa (meaning mixed with White Afrikaans and whatever else), so hearing this statement from an educated mid-twenty year old puzzled me a bit. That part of the conversation ended quickly, but was nothing in comparison to what I experienced this evening.
Going out to a family sit down restaurant with a small group from our community is nothing out of the ordinary. Stepping in the door we quickly picked up on the strong Native American theme; complete with pictures of tee-pees, Natives with spears and bow and arrows in their hands, and a place-mat explaining the "story" of Spur's restaurant. From my course work here I've learned that there are no Native Americans in South Africa...so this was different to start with. This was actually a two hour long experience with a lot of details, but basically we were made into an extreme spectacle because we are American. But what realllly hit me hard was when the manager who hopped into our conversation when he realized we were American, told me directly that I looked coloured and that I was from Cape Town. Simple observation on his part and not a big deal, it just caught me off guard. A little while later he brought over his staff from around him to me and kept pointing directly at me and talking about how I looked coloured. I know that everyone is different in different contexts, but this is one of the first instances where I have been blatantly pointed out for my race as a whole, not for its separate pieces.
So my identity struggle carries on! Learning and reflecting more and more each day. But one thing can be sure, I am going home with a heart full of experiences that have challenged me and allowed me to think critically about my world as a whole - and for that, I am truly grateful.