Unequivocally Ambiguous

Humorous Stories on Parenting, Culture and Life

Unequivocally Racially Ambiguous

by | Dec 14, 2023 | Life | 0 comments

Gummy Smiles, Big Teeth, And Racial Confusion

Photo by Olenka Kotyk on Unsplash

I inherited a very expensive family heirloom from my dad. I inherited his bad gums. Over the past 15 years, I’ve sunk good money after bad on that precious family gift.

I was thinking about this recently because I was looking in the mirror, and I thought, “Oh, my god. I have soooo many teeth.” I have to tell you I have never smoked weed. I was just amazed by my teeth.

Have you ever thought that? You open your mouth, and you are painfully aware, your smile looks like a barber comb.

It might not always be this way. As I mentioned, my dad’s gum disease is out to get me. So I might lose some of these teeth. Maybe at that point, I’ll get some of those prosthetics so popular in Los Angeles. The 2X prosthetic teeth.

I love talking to people in LA because they live in this bubble with a vocabulary that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. These exotic words typically revolve around the way people look.

I was having coffee with a friend of mine in Pasadena, and he told me about gummy smiles. Gummy smiles in LA mean that someone’s smile has too much gum. But you don’t have to live with a gummy smile. No, sir. That is a low self-esteem decision.

You can pay to have your gums removed so you can have a less gummy smile; maybe it’s called a toothier smile, or perhaps it is a balanced-toothy-gummy smile. My friend didn’t tell me what the smile becomes once it loses the excess gum.

That’s not my problem.

I don’t have gum to spare. My endodontist says I can add more gum to my smile by getting it from my palate. Apparently, my palate is the one-percenter in my mouth, and it found loopholes to avoid paying the gum disease tax.

This same friend explained to me that actors and models tend to have good luck at callbacks when people can’t tell which nationality or ethnicity they are. This is known in casting circles as being racially ambiguous.

I love that term!

I had never heard it before, but I knew exactly what he meant because, at times, I have felt racially ambiguous myself.

But not on the outside.

On the outside, it is very clear I’m Latino. If I ever try to deny it and another Latino is present, I would be told I look so Mexican that the only thing missing from my forehead is a painted cactus.

Even though, I’m not Mexican, I’m Colombian.

I still knew what he meant because I often feel racially ambiguous on the inside.

I’ve been living in the United States for 20 years now. The only connection to my roots is a WhatsApp group I’m part of with my high school graduating class.

The group started as a way to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and quickly turned into a platform to share porn because boys are disgusting. I felt uncomfortable crowd-sharing and party-watching porn, so I opted out, and I don’t even have that connection anymore.

One time, as part of a corporate icebreaker, I was asked if I was a chocolate bar, which one would I be.

One of my colleagues said she would be an Almond Joy because she was brown on the outside but white on the inside.

There was a misplaced pride in the statement, as if her sugary coconut was the one thing responsible for her appreciating the finer things in life, and she wanted to diss the outside 75% dark chocolate.

I felt at a loss trying to find a chocolate bar that represented me. It wasn’t Almond Joy. I know I’m not white on the inside because I have been tubing in Kauai with my wife’s family, who is all white.

And tubing is not an activity brown people do.

The kind of calm and ease you need to bring to tubing is something inaccessible to us.

We can’t just glide down the river, waiting for the river to take us where we need to go. We would prefer to erratically walk alongside the river and get to the end of it at our own pace.

We always have a pep in our step that comes from figuring out where the next bite is coming from, when the next paycheck is going to hit, from sliding our credit card and engaging our core as if proper form is going to make funds magically appear in your bank account.

So tubing is mortifying for me, and that’s how I know I’m not white inside.

I think I’m mostly brown with a little bit of black, which I credit for being able to keep the beat — which was confirmed by an Ancestry app. So don’t go canceling me.

I have small spots of white because I jokingly use words like accouterments and soup du jour, and I enjoy the occasional wheatgrass shot.

But there is no such chocolate bar.

If I have to compare myself to food, I think I’m more of a savory dish like a Risotto Ai Funghi because mushrooms turn everything brown in the same way my brownness colors my life.

My friend didn’t tell me if I can label myself racially ambiguous if I’m constantly conflicted by my racial identity.

I just hope this feeling goes away before my teeth do.


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