Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Soledad's Life in Black, White and Latino

Soledad O’Brien, now 43, is the daughter of a black Cuban mother (Estela Lucrecia Marquetti y Mendieta, seen in the photo left), who left Havana in 1947, and a white Australian father (Edward Ephram O’Brien), reared in a town called Toowoomba.

She writes in Latino in America, the book that accompanies the CNN documentary of the same name, about her experience growing up with five siblings in Smithtown, Long Island, NY in a "mixed family in a single-race town.”

In the opening chapter, she writes:

My family moved to Smithtown on the North Shore of Long Island when my father began teaching fluid mechanics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
We grew up among well-educated white kids, with a nice home and good schools, and pursued a life that seemed limitless. My parents hoped that the fact that one of them was white and the other black would not define us.

They believed that time would change the way people viewed our family. But our new history was being written in a town that today is 95% white and has roughly 100,000 residents and a median household income of about $100,000.

When I was growing up, I’m sure it was not as large or as wealthy as it is today, but it was just as white.
Her appearance, and that of her siblings, seemed "black" to those around here, but her mother raised them as "classically Latino."

She required a devotion to our family and a strong immigrant work ethic. She always worked; we always worked. She cooked; we ate. She focused on us; we focused. My parents were not radicals as individuals, but their way of life was radical by definition. They were a mixed family in a single-race town.

School is one place where confrontation is always present, and her mixed heritage invited additional confrontations.

In middle school when I was 13, I’d be stopped in the hallway, with a question. “If you’re a nigger, why don’t you have big lips?” I was often asked. “Why is your name so weird?” People would apologize for asking me if I was black. I didn’t know how to take the apology. I just ignored them and pushed forward with a quest to become a typical Long Island teenager. I chopped off the end of my name and had people call me Solie, which I spelled with a heart over the “i” in true Long Island high-school-girl fashion. But my hair would never “wing” like Farrah Fawcett’s.

Despite her fairly glamorous status in the news world, her high school days were less glamorous and less social.

It was clear to me I wouldn’t ever date as long as I stayed in Long Island. First of all, my parents would never allow it, and, truth be told, there were no potential suitors. I was also brainy, and that didn’t help.
Her mother taught at Smithtown High School West, but Soledad attended to go to Smithtown High School East across town. With two parents in education, there was a family focus on hard work in school as a means of success.

Soledad started at Harvard in 1984 where a new world opened for her.

What was a burden in Long Island became instantly interesting on campus. I reclaimed Soledad and studied Spanish. I made friends of all races and socioeconomic classes. I dated for the first time — white guys, Asian guys, Puerto Rican and black guys. I felt comfortable.

My siblings also went to Harvard, and now my sister Maria is a law professor, Cecilia is a corporate lawyer, Tony heads a documents company, Estela is an eye surgeon and Orestes is an anesthesiologist. We may have not blended into Long Island, but when it came to academic achievement we didn’t struggle.









Mom, Dad and the O'Brien kids



Read more excerpts at http://www.nydailynews.comand read the book for the full story.



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