If my father was alive today and you asked how he identified racially, he would say “Black”.
He was born in 1939 to a family of sharecroppers in rural Arkansas. Just a few years before the summer of the Mississippi Freedom Riders, my father joined the US Marines and asked to be sent as far away as possible from the atrocities he faced as a young Black man in the segregated South. It was the late 1950s and de-segregation meant different things to different people.
Thanks to high school typing classes and a natural ability to pick up languages quickly, he received an administrative specialty, was taught to speak Russian and Mandarin fluently, and was assigned to US embassy duty in Rangoon, Burma.
My mother was born in 1937 in Rangoon. If you ask her today what her race is, she might say something like “Well, you know… they used to call us Eurasians, but now they would call us “Anglo”. I am still working to understand who “they” are, and the implications around it.
The term “Anglo” is short for “Anglo-Burmese”. It’s a convenient yet limiting abbreviation, and in my mother’s case it concisely encompasses the lengthy European-based specifics of her cultural, ethnic, and racial heritage, which is more accurately described as Irish-Scotch-French-Portuguese, and Catholic. Some of her European roots came from missionaries who traveled to Burma to open schools and create converts, and then stayed and settled with Burmese wives. Some of her ancestors were soldiers with loyalties to the British Army who took foreign assignments in Burma.
Having been born and raised in Rangoon (except for a brief exodus to India during WWII) my mother grew up in an environment of British colonialism. During my mother’s young adult years in post-war, post-colonial Burma, “Anglo” became synonymous with “unwelcome”.
Similar to my father, she also had a talent for typing and languages, and took a job as a bilingual secretary working for the US Department of Defense at the US embassy in Rangoon, where she met my father in early 1961.
How did YOUR parents meet?
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