The Me You Cannot See: George Kosinski
I wish my skin was not such a lie. I think my skin is tan. Someone else might describe it as a light pink, or maybe just as beige. In late August, I might go so far as to say that it looks olive. My skin tells people who I am before I have the chance to do so. It tells them that I am white, and I am nothing else besides white.
Some days in the early fall or late spring when I am as dark as I will ever get, from across a lunch table I hear someone ask: “Wait George—What are you?” I pause, unsure of what to say, before they continue: “You look really Italian today.” Occasionally Italian is switched with Portuguese. Once someone asked me if I was Indian. Two years ago, when I first got to Hopkins, I had one simple answer to the “What are you?” question.
“I’m white,” I would say, confident in my response. That was who I was. Some people wear their ethnicity on their skin. It broadcasts who they are. My skin does not function that way for me. It does not broadcast that my grandmother migrated, in her twenties, from Ecuador to Baltimore and started a family. It does not broadcast that, even though my father’s family originates from Europe and does not contain an ounce of non-European blood, I am not white.
Just as is the case with many freshman, when I first arrived at Hopkins all I wanted to do was conform. I wanted to be normal. I most certainly did not want to be the annoying kid who spent five minutes explaining how his father was half Hungarian and half Polish and how his mother was half Greek and half Ecuadorean to each person who asked “What are you?” at lunch. I was George the skinny white kid, who wore Vineyard Vines shorts and did everything possible to fit in, but knew that he would always be a little different from the person his peers thought he was.
Even during the times when I wanted to embrace my Hispanic Heritage, there was one major roadblock: I did not speak a word of Spanish. My grandfather had forbade my grandmother’s use of the language in their household because he did not understand it. Thus, Spanish never reached me; it was blocked by the wall that was my grandfather.
When I visit my grandmother, I enjoy empanadas and ceviche and hominy, foods she brought with her from Ecuador, and look at pictures of my grandmother with her relatives in Quito and in the fields of the farm that they own, set high on the mountain slopes of some remote Andes village. I am still Hispanic. I still experience Hispanic culture. When I first came to Hopkins, however, I was afraid to tell people that a part of me is Hispanic out of fear that I would be labeled as a poser. I would be the fake Ecuadorean kid, who told his friends that he was Hispanic so he would seem cool, but could not even speak the language.
Spending two years at Hopkins has helped me overcome my fear of telling people who I really am. There have been awkward moments, and moments where I wondered if my friends and I were good people. I have been trapped, forced to laugh along with my friends at racist jokes directed at Hispanics, because they did not know that the jokes were offensive to me and I was not willing to share that with them.
This hurt me inside. I was turning my back on a big part of me, even if few people knew that it was there. How could I feel good about who I was? Not only was I hiding a part of my ethnicity, I even ventured to laugh at it just to seem normal and please my friends. That terrible feeling, a nausea that ate away at my stomach whenever there was a joke or a comment that I could not say that I hated, had to end.
There was no instant solution, I could not just announce my Ecuadorean-ness at Assembly one Monday morning. Gradually, however, the atmosphere at Hopkins allowed me to become comfortable and accept who I was.
Teachers are supportive of students’ identities and open to the choices that students make, and this support and openness is reflected, for the most part, within the student population as a whole. I realized that people would probably not think twice if I told them that I was part Hispanic. They would just accept me for who I was, just like they accept all the other students at Hopkins.
I still hesitate to go into detail about my background. I do not gallivant through Heath, telling everyone I see that I am not white, no, I am Ecuadorean. If the issue of my race or ethnicity comes up in conversation, however, or if I am asked the “What are you?” question, for seemingly the hundredth time, I will have a different response now than I did two years ago. “I am white. But I’m also Ecuadorean,” I will answer. If they seem interested, I will continue: “But you might feel weird calling me Hispanic, because I do not have a clue how to speak Spanish.”