Let's talk about race.
I'm also Scottish, Irish, English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and, if memory serves, like 2% Neanderthal (but that part only expresses itself when I try to talk to women. Sorry about that, women).
I've been called "spic," "wetback," "white boy," "guero," and "asshole" (I earned the last one).
On stage and on screen, I've played Jewish, Mexican, Dominican, Chilean, Puerto Rican, generic white,* Nuyorican, Indian (from India), English, Spanish (with an English accent [because, as we all know, anyone from a time and place other than America Right Now had a modern Received Pronunciation English dialect]), a rat, a raccoon, a plant, and a bunch of other things I can't remember off the top of my head.
I'm brown in the summer, and fair in the winter (and certain parts of me are fair year-round. Again, I'm sorry, women).
So... what am I, then?
Am I Mexican enough to be playing Latino† roles? Am I white enough to be playing white roles? Am I Indian enough to be playing Indian roles?º I speak a little Spanish, but I'm not fluent, though the assumption consistently is that I am, or at least ought to be (insert the stand-alone stage direction: "He mutters something in Spanish"). I grew up in a household without ofrendas or sugar skulls and in which we spoke exclusively English, but my family reunions were filled with mariachis, thousands of hand-made tamales, and tíos y tías hablando en español. And on the flip side, my dad, brother, and I attend the Scottish games every year and hang out in the Clan Mackintosh tent along with other descendants of the same historical bloodline.
So what – I ask again – precisely am I, then?
Here's how I try to look at it:
I'm a sassy-ass straight boy who makes and cracks whips, does stunts, sings tenor (though please, for the love of Dionysus, cast me in some baritone roles once in a while), works out a lot, pretends to be other people for money, occasionally does drag, turns heads at karaoke bars in the Midwest, has a lot of feelings, loves a glass of good whiskey, will go to the mat on behalf of his brother in a heartbeat, has no tolerance for intolerance, can ROCK a moustache, spells "moustache" with a "-u-" and "theatre" with an "-re" because it feels fancy, and also happens to be Mexican, Scottish, Irish, English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and, if memory serves, like 2% Neanderthal (women... I can't express this enough... I'm so sorry).
It's all PART of who I am, but it isn't Who I Am.
So, sorry not sorry; I don't come with an easy-to-read label. I'm not ketchup.§ I'm Andrew Joseph Perez and you don't get to box me in because I'd be easier to comprehend if I were just one thing.
That said, if you're ever nervous when you're talking to – or about – me, or anyone else whose race / identity / whatever you're not sure of, here's the best thing to do:
(I know this is gonna sound crazy, but here it is anyway...)
Now, don't say: "So.......... what....... ARE you?" That's rude. Also don't say: "Where are you [or 'where is your family'] from?" unless you REALLY want to get a sassy retort intended to make you feel exactly as accidentally racist as you're being.
But just ask. "Hey, I'm curious and I want to get this right; what's your ethnic makeup?" or some such.
Race is confusing. And complicated. And it's a sensitive subject, so we've got to be sensitive when approaching and discussing it. People of certain races have been historically and systematically oppressed by people of other races since the dawn of human civilization; we're tribal creatures with a biological imperative to separate the us's from the them's, and, as a result, nowadays, a lot of assumptions get made on both sides of those divides. Sure, there are genetic traits that express themselves consistently throughout generations of homogenous groups, and so those traits can act as indicators that an individual has ancestors that lived in this or that part of the world (Elizabeth Warren knows a lot about this, but I think there are more pressing things to ask her about right now), but at the end of the day, we're all humans and we all have to live here. So before you try to pigeonhole anyone as X or Y, take a second to think about one of my favorite classic jokes, and remember how much it sucks to be known as only one thing out of the myriad things that make you YOU.
Most of the time, when you cry, no one sees your tears...
When you hurt, no one sees your pain...
When you're happy, no one sees your smile...
But you fart just one time...
*For real, though: when do we say "White" and when do we say "white?" This is perplexing to me and I would appreciate assistance.
†Again, the "Latino / Hispanic" thing is a conversation for another post.
**Never "Drew" (except when I was a child dressed as a cowboy, at which time I was referred to exclusively as "Cowboy Drew") nor "Andy" (except by my late grandfather, and the Artistic Director of Capital Stage in Sacramento).
§More on ketchup later, too.
Here I am, one little Ricky surrounded by a pile of Lucys, tapping my little boy heart out.
I loved dance. (You can be sure of that since the competitions my studio entered were named "I Love Dance" and I have a closetful of first-place trophies to prove it.) I was pretty damn good, too.
And then came the bullies and the hormones and the pressure to fit in and be liked. And here's what sucks: they won. I quit. I got chubby. Then I got into swimming and water polo. It took me a few years and a chronic injury to find my way back to theater. But I never got back to dance.
I didn't have the strength to do it all; to stand up against the rest of the world who all pointed and laughed and keep dancing anyway. I couldn't do it. And it is genuinely one of the biggest, if not the single biggest regret I carry.
There's a line that Stanley Tucci has in "Shall We Dance?" that goes: "A straight man who likes to dance around in sequins walks a very lonely road." That line burned itself into my memory the first time I heard it. Because it me.
Or rather, it was. And I miss it. And I regret letting the bullies win.
So, Lara Spencer, your meager apology is too late and too little (and are you joking with the stock photo?). DO something to make amends. Volunteer at a dance competition... Work for an anti-bullying campaign... I don't know what, but you need to DO something. Because some little boy somewhere out there just threw out his ballet shoes because of you.
I was washing a dish while my coffee was brewing, and the [72-year-old gay white] man I live with was bemoaning the myriad red Solo cups that had been left on the sidewalk in front of our house following a party that our [Mexican] neighbors had thrown (side note: these neighbors are, truly, unbelievably dismissive and obnoxious. They're the ones on whom I've had to call the cops multiple times after repeated attempts to get them to shut their parties down at, for example, 2am on a Tuesday). We spoke of something pertaining to people's nonchalance when it comes to littering, at which point he shrugged and said, "Well, it's cultural."
I put my dish down, my espresso machine continued to steam, I picked up the towel, began to dry my hands and explained:
"No. It's not cultural. It's an endemic failure on the part of our educational system in this country. At a predominantly white, affluent school, children will be taught how litter adversely affects the water cycle, the animals in the oceans, and, inevitably, us. However, at a predominantly Hispanic or black* school in an impoverished area, the lack of funding and resources mean that the teachers can barely cover the required material to get the kids into the next grade, let alone something like waste management or storm water pollution. As awful an experience as I had with my environmental protection school show, I have been to nearly every elementary school campus in LA County, and I consistently observed that not even the teachers in poorer schools knew the material we would cover about litter and pollution, whereas at nearly every affluent charter school, the student body was predominantly white and/or Jewish and, with shocking frequency, they had not only separate bins for trash, recycling, and compost, but on-campus organic vegetable gardens and student-run environmental protection groups.
"It's not cultural. Mexicans are very clean people. It's economic oppression and systematic social segregation by means of inherited ignorance."
He said, "Oh."
Then I had my coffee.
P.S. That said, I have also been informed this morning that I am "everything that's wrong with the world" by an Instagram troll after I commented my displeasure regarding a derisive video — taken and posted without consent – which featured a teenage boy misusing a BOB Training Dummy — posted by a martial arts account I generally enjoy, so what do I know? (The video has since been removed.)
A. Help me out here, please. When do we capitalize "White" and "Black?" Microsoft Word is adamant about "Latino," "Hispanic," "Asian," and others, but... help.
B. The "What Do I Call You?" conversation about people who are generically from Spain, Central and South America, and/or Mexico, and who the asker wishes to lump together with the others, is one we can have at another time.