Unbreak My Heart

It was 1997, I am thirteen years old and Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” music video aired on VH1, BET, and MTV. My favorite thing to do was watch music videos and then learn all the choreography from my favorite R&B and hip-hop songs. I remember one time I got in trouble with my mother for imitating a sexy dance move from Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough for Me” coming out of Saturday school one afternoon. At the time I lived in my childhood home in the suburbs of Rancho Cucamonga, California. I attended Rancho Cucamonga High School and I was a freshman. 

 

High school was such an awkward time in my life. I was trying to discover where I fit in. It was a time of party crews and cliques. I wouldn’t say I had a hard time making friends, but I was ethnically unique. I struggled with my ethnic and racial identity as I did not identify as African-American and I wasn’t white. I was born to Trinidadian parents of Indian, Pakistani, Venezuelan, and French descent. Which made me a mulatto, a mutt, and a Caribbean-American; but that category did not exist yet and it still doesn’t. At least not officially on paper but the term is recognized.

 

Dark skin with red and yellow undertones, high cheekbones, long curly hair that was not a weave. All I knew was roti, curry chicken, dahl and rice, and tomato choka. My native tongue was too proper for my skin color. I spoke the queen's English. Most of my friends were Latino, Asian, biracial, or of mixed race. All my white friends from middle school had abandoned me for “prep hill”. It was a set of bleachers in the courtyard where all the popular white kids ate lunch.  Junior varsity and varsity cheerleaders, dance team, football players, baseball players, and track and field members ate lunch.

 

 If you stood at the top of the bleachers you could easily map out of how the courtyard was divided. The lunch tables at the very back were where all Samoan and Tongan kids hung out. The lunch tables to the left were where all the Hispanic and Latin kids ate lunch. Many of them were apart of party crews and identified as rebels. Party crews were not gangs, but I think the name is self-explanatory. The right of the courtyard is where all the black kids were, including the black football players, basketball players, track members, and cheerleaders. As for everyone else? They were everywhere and in between; hallways, stairs, corners, and restrooms. I didn’t think my high school was segregated by race but looking back it might have been.

 

The mother and daughter struggle began way back in middle school and escalated entering high school. My parents never assimilated to American culture, they held strong to their Trinidadian roots. Which made it hard for my twin brother and me; we just wanted to fit in with the other kids. My parents couldn’t understand our acting out and antics simply because they didn’t have those experiences to relate to themselves. It made it even harder because we were living in white suburbia far east of Los Angeles County. I was tired of hearing the question “what are you?” I was exhausted from answering, defending, and justifying my existence to just about everyone.