“What are you?” That’s a common question I normally get asked. I’ve also heard “I knew you were mixed with something but didn’t want to ask,” or “there’s something different about you.” To some people this is offensive but I appreciate the curiosity. I’m flattered now when people assume I am an exotic creation handcrafted by God (I’ve been told that too). Truth is, I am Tracey Phipps, born and raised in Washington DC. I am an Afro -Latina, but I am also loving, caring, open-minded, spontaneous and talented. I am daughter of God hand-selected for such a time like this.
The truth is for a long time I struggled to answer this question. I wasn’t always so confident. Even still I find myself evolving and growing. I knew my parents were both Dominican, my father from Samana, and my mother from Iguey. I knew I had a twin sister and an older sister, and I knew we spent 70% of our time at a Pentecostal church that was predominantly Central American. My mother was a missionary leader and she was extremely active in the church. When I wasn’t in school, I was at church. When I wasn’t at home, I was at church. When I wasn’t sleeping in my own bed… I was sleeping at church. I was surrounded by many Central Americans primarily from El Salvador and enjoyed foods like pupas, enchiladas, and horchata. I knew we had many physical differences, but it wasn’t until I went to middle school and had to make new friends that I realized my circle was not that diverse.
For a while, I struggled with my identity. I was that skinny girl in class with glasses that were taped because I’d always break them. My hair was never well done because my mother gave me a perm at a young age trying to tame my hair but didn’t keep up with it. It caused breakage and would shed often. I got bullied and picked on for “speaking white” and wearing pants that were too short. I couldn’t help it, the smallest pants in the store were the only ones that would fit my pipe-shaped legs. It was so bad! My mother couldn’t afford a “low-end designer” thing for us. I tried so hard to fit in, once I got a pair of shoes from Payless and drew a timberland sign on them. It felt so cool wearing those to school, but God forbid someone get too close to check the fine print.
I remember the feeling when I learned that a guy I was dating was told by a family member that if we had kids they would look too Black like my father. Even if it was a joke, it was mean. So yeah, that relationship didn’t work out. While some people have the patience to deal with members in their family who think they are superior because of their lighter skin, I don’t. I didn’t like that feeling of confusion, entitlement, embarrassment, pity. By the time I got to high school, I realized I was just different. No matter what I did, it wasn’t going to change. I needed to love myself, and surround myself with people who would love me for me. As much as I got made fun of, I started to learn that there were some advantages because I was Black and spoke Spanish. Riding the train when perverted men would mumble Spanish crap like “mira a esa” under their breath, I’d turn around and hit them with a “hay un problema?” Those were my proudest moments where I would silently thank my mother for forcing me to speak Spanish at home as a child.
I found ways to get around my “issues”. I learned how to do hair and worked at a Dominican hair salon making up to $150 every weekend. That’s a lot of money for a 16-year-old! I started to charge the “Central American” girls $15 each to do cornrows in their hair during church guaranteeing them it would last them a while like it did in my hair, which was a lie. They always came back for more. I was a hustler! I got rid of the glasses, grew up, and eventually applied to a fashion school for college.
“What are you?” Forward a few years after college where I landed my dream job and moved to Japan for 3 months. Talk about culture shock! The moment I got on the plane, I knew I would stand out. I’d walk through the airport or even in my neighborhood and was greeted by Japanese locals thinking I was Rihanna. Kids would ask me to touch my hair, follow me around in the grocery store, and sit next to me at the restaurant. To be honest, I never once felt a negative vibe from either of those experiences. They were all just curious and for those who could speak, they’d compliment me and want to take photos with me. I actually felt pretty cool in a good way.
By this time, I had learned to embrace my skinny legs and my curly hair. In the workplace, I found that my coworkers gravitated towards me and enjoyed my loud personality, my jokes, my aggressive approach to my work and my direct and blunt remarks. My hustle mentality and bilingual abilities ended up working in my favor. It was an experience I never anticipated having, but thank God because part of who I am is in embracing the diversity of this world and learning to adapt and commune with any culture.
I never wanted to be that person who only spoke to people who looked like me. If that is you, I challenge you before the year ends to change your circle. Attracting diversity will come naturally to you when you realize it’s how you can learn and grow. Curiosity is such a powerful gift. It stretches your way of thinking. I will say, I had a hard time learning to eat rice and meat that was cold. It wasn’t until my second time going to Japan that I embraced the food. Nothing beats a mofongo with salsa de camaron, or arroz con guandules and maduros, or platoon con salami.
In 2016, I moved to Orlando, FL where I hosted my first event bringing women of diverse backgrounds and cultures together over tea. My mission is to consistently bring women together who don’t look alike. I introduced Time for TEA Teens in 2018 where we bring etiquette training and social skills training to young girls in schools and summer programs. Over the last 2 years, we’ve been able to train over 250+ girls in our community. This program is so important to me because as a young girl I was never taught how to properly hold a fork, how to introduce myself at a dinner table, how to properly dress for an interview. These are things that are essential as our youth continue to grow and evolve in a diverse society.
So what am I now? I am a Singer/Songwriter, I am a Fashion Retail Industry expert, I am the founder of Time for TEA, and I am still evolving. I know I am many things, but I also hope to become so much more! So who are you? You are not just your blend of races. You are not just your complexion. You are not your mother, your father, your ancestors. Yes, be proud of those things because they can and will shape you. But understand that those things alone do not make you who you are. Their story is not your story. You can change the narrative for better or for worse. Your character, your actions, your heart, those are the things that will make you into the person you want to be. Do not simply exist. If you are still alive and breathing, you have purpose and time to make a difference in your home, in your workplace, or in your life.
MEET TRACEY PHIPPS
Tracey Phipps (born in Washington, DC) is an Afro – Latin studio and performing artist, songwriter, and multi-talented influencer based out of Orlando, Florida. She is the founder of Time for TEA, an organization that focuses on empowering women and teen girls over tea. At 21, she moved to Japan to pursue her career in fashion business management. No matter where she went, her passion for music followed with her. Tracey uses her voice and talents to musically inspire through inspirational R&B, build people of all walks of life, empower women, and educate young and aspiring leaders. Her life mission is to break the silos amongst women by offering a unique way for many diverse women to have open and honest conversations. Her music is available on all musical platforms.
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