What to Pack?

Allison Green

I want to write about a trip I (white) took through Idaho with my partner (Latina (Panamanian; she migrated as a young woman twenty-some years ago and took on the pan-ethnic label) (should I say light-skinned? It’s relevant to the journey because I think she is sometimes read as white, but she isn’t so sure (she has dark eyes and hair, full lips; the Latino phenotype but with lighter skin (the lightness from her three Italian grandparents)) because she often registers that strangers respond to us differently, and it’s true that sometimes when we are in a store the salesperson will focus on my eyes and only intermittently glance at hers (she also has an accent (we all have accents, linguistically speaking, but hers is from a first language not English (of course, Spanish) and the moment she opens her mouth something does happen (a slight shift in temperature, sometimes merely a pause, waiting for her to explain herself, sometimes an outright, “Where are you from?” (but when we have been in Panama she’s sometimes been mistaken for an American or European, not primarily due to phenotype but due to clothes (we were once in the middle of Chiapas state in Mexico on a bus; at a stop, a woman asked if we were from Seattle; when we asked how she knew, she said, “Your haircuts, your earrings, your Gore-Tex, your Tevas.”), which she finds somewhat distressing, given that Panama is/was her home)))), which is something I’ve had to learn to see because it’s easy to miss when someone is looking you straight in the eye, giving you their full attention, because that’s the visibility of whiteness, visible to the white eye (but I don’t want to just start the book with an ungraceful “Hello there and for the record I’m white and my partner is Panamanian and if you want to know light-skinned but foreign enough to be dismissed in everyday interactions” (there must be a smoother way to introduce who we are, but isn’t that always the challenge? (on top of the challenge, I mean, of being the one who gets to tell this story, that is, her story and my story but I’m the one telling it) (and why so far do I have so little to say about myself beyond white? (Anglo white, my ancestors having come before the Mayflower possibly, there were Warrens at Jamestown, and that was my paternal grandmother’s last name (but there were certainly Greens not long after the Mayflower, and one of them was Nathanael, George Washington’s second in command, who is supposedly a direct ancestor, so definitely Anglo white (and they say that whites in the United States whose ancestors came to these shores that long ago probably picked up some African genes (a polite way of saying “raped”) but I’ve never had that DNA testing that might tell me something for sure (would it tell me something for sure?))))))))). We put our suitcases in the trunk and hit the road.

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