Berkeley High School sophomore Fae Cantero Sandler was born and raised in Mexico. But for her, a lot of people tend to jump to the conclusion that she’s fully white. Being half-white and half Mexican, this confusion doesn’t upset her, but she makes sure to let assuming people know that she is Mexican.
Her experience is not uncommon. The term “white passing” refers to people who belong to a historically marginalized racial group, yet may “pass” as white.
“There have been a few times where I feel like people see me as less of my ethnicity because of my skin color,” Cantero Sandler said. She values her connection to her culture, but feels less connected to it than she used to. “I don’t really have any of my dad’s family in the U.S., so I kind of feel like that part of me is fading away slowly,” she said.
In addition to this struggle with identity, students also recognized the enormous privilege that comes with being white passing. Rydell Morgan-Carland, a junior, is Navajo, Indigenous Mexican, Spanish, Irish, English and Jewish. However they were raised in only Navajo and Jewish cultures. “I feel an immense amount of privilege due to my complexion in comparison to a lot of my cousins who look very Native or Mexican,” they said.
For Morgan-Carland, family is an important way to connect to their culture. “I’m adopted and have white parents so I am not as in touch with a lot of parts of my culture as I’d like to be, but I see my birth.
father and his family a few times a year and they always try to immerse me more in my native and Mexican culture,” Morgan-Carland said. “The fact that I pass as white is what people see, and I feel that they overlook the other parts of my identity,” they said. “I think I do it myself even.”
For Morgan-Carland, experiences that affirm their cultural identity are incredibly impactful and very important. They said that they have some Hispanic friends who they speak Spanish with, which feels refreshing. Similar to Morgan-Carland, Cantero Sandler found being in her Spanish class for native speakers to be affirming. “It’s really engaging and it helps me get better at Spanish,” she said of the class. “When I was growing up, I just spoke it most of the time.” Spanish is not the only class Cantero Sandler hopes to engage in to better connect to her culture. She plans to take Latinx History next year, as she sees it as an opportunity to learn more about her culture.
For freshman Ayesha Khan, her membership in the BHS Muslim Students Association also provides a rewarding environment.
“Half the people there are Pakistani so it’s cool,” Khan said. Khan recalled people telling her she looks white because of her light skin color. “When someone says that, I feel like I let down my culture,” she explained. “I am really connected with my culture.” She said. Morgan-Carland isn’t currently a member of any cultural clubs, but that they had considered joining the Native Student Union. They said they didn’t do so because “I was afraid I wasn’t Native enough.”
Both Cantero Sandler and Morgan-Carland stated that they were excited for Multicultural Week at BHS. Cantero Sandler enjoys seeing the inclusivity and diversity at BHS.
“When I hear about something about my culture, I always get really excited, or something going on (in the community), I want to participate in it,” Cantero Sandler said.