Growing up a bi-racial child today in America is not unusual, however, when I was born in 1961 it was a new trend. Interestingly children of mixed heritage have been with us since the beginning of time, but here in the United States, we have what is referred to as the one drop rule. If you have even one drop of Black blood you are considered Black. I was raised by my African American (paternal) side of the family and lived with my grandmother, affectionately known as Mother Dear. My grandmother taught me to always hold my head up and to be proud of who I am and my heritage. I am proud to be a biracial Black woman in America.
Like a coin, I have two sides. One side of my family is African American and the other is German American. I recently learned October 6th is recognized as National German American Day. The purpose is to celebrate the German heritage of millions of German Americans and the contributions they have made to our society. Many Germans came here during the 19th century through Ellis Island or by crossing the border in Canada. Most of my family members came through Ellis Island on steamships. We also have one documented record that shows my great-grandfather, Leo Oberleiter, on the paternal side of my mother’s family came through Canada.
Growing up I was very curious to know more about my mother’s family and heritage. Since I did not grow up with them, they were always a mystery to me, yet I was told that I looked just like them and that I have some of their ways. Later while I was in college when I met and became reunited with my mother’s family, and spent time with them I began to understand, and I learned the role between nature and nurture plays in one’s life. I literally am the spitting image in many ways of my “Auntie Mom Kathy.” My curiosity about my German family grew and around 2012 my mom and I traveled to Wisconsin to do research and trace the steps of our ancestors. We learned a lot and together our love for one another and our history grew.
On both sides of my mother’s family, I am a fourth and fifth-generation German American. On my mother’s maternal side my great-great grandfather Ferdinand Behren came to America through Ellis Island around 1855. He eventually met and married my great-great grandmother Ana and together they settled in Grafton, Wisconsin where they ran a farm. Eventually, they had children, and my great-grandfather Walter Herman was born and as an adult, he met my great-grandmother, Florence. He became a Lutheran Minister and was instrumental in translating the bible from German to English for their congregation. From this union my grandmother Ruth was born. My grandmother Ruth met my grandfather Arno and eventually. They moved from Wisconsin (which was a heavily populated German state) to California where my mother met and married my father, and from their union, I was born.
Being a descendant of the German people, I was not always proud because I was concerned if any of my family participated in the devastation of the Jews by the Hitler regime. I was happy to learn they were against such treatment and did what they could do to stop it. Many of my relatives fled Germany before the war and the ones that were still there showed compassion toward the Jewish people. I am proud of every part of who I am.
Healing Without Hate: It’s a choice. It’s a lifestyle. Pass it on.