My name is Robert Castro-Terrio, and I am Guatemalan, Italian, Spanish, Yucatan Indigenous, Cameroonian, Malian, Ghanian, Portuguese, and Irish American. What does that even mean? I can tell you that it has been a long journey to figure out myself.
My journey mirrors the same challenging work that all people of color must do to figure out what it means to be American and live in the United States: it is navigating a complex history and society, and we are still learning. My story and experiences are different from many other people of color in America. There are points that relate, but my background is unique, so my story needs to be told in another way—just as the narratives of other American People of Color require an alternate narrative. Schools make this difficult because for decades, textbooks have presented Black History as a single story, and as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie taught us, there are dangers to a single story. So how does one include all the narratives? To do it right, the focus needs to be on the journey.
History textbooks portray the Black experience as one master narrative: there was slavery, the Civil War, emancipation, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, and then…Obama became president. This is absurd. Black history is U.S. History; it is far deeper and richer. This year, our class decided to search for those deeper and richer stories in our own backyard. Finding them, however, has been difficult because much of Black history remains buried, forgotten, and/or erased. Uncovering Black history is critical because doing this makes it possible for people of color in America to find themselves in our country’s past. But first, let’s back up the timeline to discover the origins of my identity before I take part in the search for others who have been forgotten.
My journey started in Guatemala. This fact alone already makes my experience different from most people of color in this country. I was my mother’s fourth child, and her circumstances were such that she couldn’t take care of me. I was fortunate enough to be adopted by my current parents, David and Mayo, and they gave me the confidence to find my unique self. I needed that push because the task of finding out who you are is infinitely more complicated when you can’t even define what you are. My extremely curly hair reflects that…