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Houstonians Can relate to ‘Passing’, a new film about crossing the colored lines

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Lacey Tezino didn’t know she was “passing” until her black roommates told her she was black.

She had lived in a white world in Vidor, adopted by a white father who died when she was 7 years old. She was raised by her parents and her family. Tezino, 35, learned his late mother was Hawaiian. In fact, her mother was black, Samoan, and alive; her father was white, possibly biracial.

Tezino’s roommates pointed out her curly hair, full lips and caramel complexion. They even referred to her childhood school photos, in which she stood out from her all-white classmates.

“Girl, how don’t you know you’re black?” They might say. Today, they are among Tezino’s best friends.

Although Tezino’s story is unique in that she was unaware of her black heritage, ‘pass’ usually means when a person of one race, identity, ethnicity, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, economic status, gender or religion has the ability to pass for another group. . They often give up relationships with family and friends to take on a new life.

It’s a concept brought to light in the new movie “Passing”, which stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. It’s based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name, in which two fair-skinned black women who were childhood friends reconnect as adults. We choose to “pass” for white; the other chooses not to.

The film opened in limited theaters nationwide this week and premiered on Netflix from November 10. It’s directed by Rebecca Hall, whose black grandfather was passed for white, and her mother never acknowledged his black heritage.

“The film is about transmission, as well as other binary issues – male, female, homosexual heterosexual identity. It’s a cross between the story we tell about ourselves and the story society tells us and tells us, “Hall said on” CBS Sunday Morning. “

Tezino had an exclusive pass to the white world, in which she witnessed derogatory remarks about blacks and the use of the “n” word. That changed when she discovered her own heritage and met her late birth mother for the first time; she was in college.

“I knew I was different. I actually thought I was white, ”Tezino said. “I guess I was passing. Then I got quite confused. Once I discovered how dark I was, I was disgusted because I was considered white because of my lighter skin. It makes me sad that it still exists. That there is a ranking of your worth based on the color of your skin.

The concept of “passing”, while perhaps foreign to some, is not new. Death was a way to escape and survive slavery, and then it became mainstream with laws that made it legal to discriminate against anyone with “a drop” of black blood. In the 1950s, a fair-skinned black man from Missouri who couldn’t find a job as a pianist transformed into an Indian pop star. He changed his name from John Roland Redd to Korla Pandit, wore a turban and never said a word on stage. His identity was not revealed until after his death in 1998.

More recently, successful novels such as “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett and “The Personal Librarian” by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, address the issue of black characters who pass for white.

Perceptions about race can be damaging.

In the case of Laureen Lucas, she was identified as “white” on her birth certificate, even though her mother is Filipino, who immigrated to the United States in her twenties; her father is white. Lucas was often seen as a Latina and regularly asked about his quinceañera growing up in Port Lavaca.

In elementary school, when Lucas, 39, checked the “Asian Pacific Islander” box on a standardized test, her teachers asked her parents to come to school to prove she was indeed Asian. It is a memory that still haunts her.

“It was a feeling of not belonging or that there was something wrong with me,” Lucas said. “There was always confusion about who I was because I didn’t really look Asian. Child, you don’t understand that. Then, as an adult, some friends identified me as white because I didn’t act as they perceived Asians.

Perceptions about breed also impacted Yvette Chargois, 79, born as “Yvette Guerra” to a Creole-Mexican father and a Creole mother. She was raised as Black in the Fifth Ward, just one block south of Frenchtown, where black Louisiana Creoles settled and married others like them.

Chargois has always proudly identified herself as Black, although many confuse her with a Latina.

“I always go to restaurants and people speak Spanish to me. It happened so much that I felt like I had to explain my darkness. All I have to do is open my mouth and talk and you know who I am, ”said Chargois, who has a rich Louisiana-Texas accent.

“Growing up, I was too light to be black and too dark to be white. But I was never confused about who I was.

Chargois said many of his relatives were passed off as white many years ago. But the younger generation seems less influenced by race, she said. “I really think with each generation the race issues are getting less and less,” she said.

Yet in some industries, such as fashion, race and stereotypes still seem to be present.

Rachel Darby, 25, a model with roots in Houston, said she is often seen as mixed race, when in fact both of her parents are black. Because of this, her look may be more difficult to sell for certain markets, where beauty is viewed in terms of stereotypes.

“People assume that because I have fair skin, I am mixed race or biracial. Because I don’t look like the black stereotype they have in mind, I might not be cast. I’m in this weird category of racial ambiguity, ”said Darby, who has modeled in New York, Paris and Milan.

She said that she sometimes received special treatment growing up because of her fair skin, with comments such as “You are black, but you are so pretty” or “You don’t look black.” “

“The fashion industry has a stereotype of how they see blacks, Asians and Latinos, and they want models who can sell that,” she said. “The world is changing too, so if they could see that black comes in many different shades just like other races and ethnicities, that everyone is equally beautiful, that would be a level playing field. experience both sides of the privilege, and I want to use all the privileges I have so that I can be seen for who I am and not be valued by the color of my skin.

At 95, Gertrude Gagné, who obviously looks like a white woman, knows she could easily have passed for white growing up in the French Quarter of Houston. She recalled when she was able to try on hats at a local department store that discriminated against blacks. Another time, she sat in the back of a separate bus with other black riders and had to tell them that she was also black.

“I was proud to be black,” said Gagné. “But whites looked crazy when they found out I was black. Then there was this tension between blacks and Creoles. My father was very prejudiced against darker-skinned black people. They were trying to keep the Creole and Catholic thing going. It was part of the time.

Tezino believes that some whites even today feel more comfortable with lighter-skinned blacks. But she hopes to teach her children to match their complexion. That’s why she sends them to a predominantly black private school.

“It’s so important for my kids to feel comfortable in their dark skin. I want them to be humble and fall in love with their skin color and the complexion of other black children. I want them to know they belong, ”she said.

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