Wait – what’s my race?

On my first of many standardized exams, I remember being stumped by the question:

What is your race?
A. Caucasian
B. Black
C. Hispanic
D. Native American/Indian
E. Asian/Pacific Islanders
F. Other

Should be an easy question, right? I remember pausing on this question when I first ran across this. Huh? Wait a minute. I don’t remember learning about this in school. And I don’t think I know the answer.

I remember my parents telling me that we are Indian but I didn’t understand what that meant.
I didn’t think it was important so I didn’t ask my parents to explain.

I knew I was born in New Jersey. My mom would often show my yellow birth certificate stamped USA on the top. She kept it so dearly in an envelope in her top dresser drawer along with her prized jewelry.

I looked back at the answer choices. I fumbled over whether to select choice D. Native American/Indian because I recognized the term Indian. Or do I choose choice E. Asian/Pacific Islanders because I remember hearing that I am Asian? Or do I choose answer F. Other? I didn’t like the sound of being Other. Other sounded like I do not belong.

In the end, I chose choice D. Native American/Indian based on name recognition of the term Indian that my parents mentioned passingly in conversation.

What do you expect from an eight year old CHILD whose parents migrated in the 1970s from Southern India?

And wait, why does this question matter?

Because it did matter then.

And it still does matter even now.

Julie Thomas is an assistant professor at UUSOM and is part of the Division of Rheumatology. Her parents migrated to the US from Southern India and she was born, raised, and educated in New Jersey. She loves reading a good book.

Rubor Participation:
2021 Essay, "Wait - What's my race?"