Should I Check “White, Not Hispanic or Latino”?

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As I was updating my paperwork for the dentist recently, I had to decide whether or not I felt like technically lying.

It’s always something I hesitate on, more than I probably should.

My grandmother is full Mexican. I’m therefore only a quarter Mexican.

So I’m white; but 25% of my genes, and I suppose to some degree, my heritage and culture, is Mexican.

But if I could honestly describe myself to the Census Bureau, which apparently is the organization that most cares about my cultural and ethnic identity, it would simply be this:

Mostly white.

I’m not 100% white, so to proclaim, “white, not Hispanic or Latino” is inaccurate; because I’m absolutely part Hispanic.

The first time I remember having to answer that question was in 1st grade, for a standardized test. I remember how my mom, who is half Mexican and half Italian, told me that she always questioned that herself when she had to answer that question as well.

I think it muddies the waters even more than Italians typically are “more ethnic looking” than most Europeans. I have always thought the same thing about Jews (who are actually considered Middle Eastern) and Greeks (who, like Italians, are Mediterranean).

“White” is a funny term to me, when it references people.

I would love to take one of those ethnic DNA tests where they draw some of your blood and tell you exactly what percentage you are of each people group.

Mainly just because it would be fun to know… exactly. But really, none of that really matters.

What I learned in my HR training course is that ultimately, a person can claim whatever race they most identify with, even if it’s simply cultural.

If you are Chinese but adopted by white parents, you can identify as “white” if you choose to; or Chinese. It’s up to the individual.

As for me, I’m mostly white, based on the last names in my family tree: German (“Shell”), Italian (“Metallo”), Dutch (“Clowers”, derived from “Klaar”), Scottish (“Johnston” and “King”), and English (“Taylor” and “Wiseman”).

And of course I’m also Mexican (“Mendez”). That’s a little confusing as well because ethnically, Mexicans are a mixed race called Mestizos: ultimately, they are around half European (largely including Spanish) and around half Native (or indigenous) Mexican; just like how the United States originally was occupied by Native Americans before the Europeans came over.

The natives in modern Mexico and United States actually derived from Asia, like the Eskimos who settled in Russia and Alaska.

So technically, I’ve got distant traces of Asian blood.

If you really dumb it down, I’m just European and barely Asian.

But there’s not a category for that on the paperwork.

Why Pia Toscano was “Voted Off” American Idol

Bye, bye, Miss American Idol.

I figured the most shocking episode of the 2011 season of American Idol was going to be when half-Jewish contestant Casey Abrams was voted off, then saved by the judges.  But then to everyone’s amazement, on April 7th the Italian and immaculate Pia Toscano sang her last song, “I’ll Stand By You.”  Admittedly, Pia wasn’t my favorite, but not for lack of talent, grace, and poise.  It was simply that she reminded me of Celine Dion, who is one of the most successful singers in the history of the world yet doesn’t sing the kind of music I would choose to listen to.

It seemed everyone I’ve been talking over the past couple of weeks felt similarly about Pia.  There is no denying her talent, but maybe if nothing else, it’s easier to root for quirkiness than it is for flawless performances.  Pia isn’t quirky; she’s untouchable.

America didn’t vote for who they thought was the best, but instead who they thought was in the most danger of going home.  It was assumed that this whole time Pia was getting the most votes, or the 2nd or 3rd most votes.  But it’s very possible that she has been hovering about the lower middle.  So now with the bottom three gone, it suddenly exposed Pia to the exit door.  Now that I think about it, when I would see on my facebook status feed who people were voting for, I can’t think of one time I saw Pia’s name on there.

I never rooted for Pia like I have for Paul McDonald (the Scottish lord a leapin’) or Casey Abrams (the red-tinted Seth Rogen).  Nor have I ever shouted at the TV telling her to leave like I have for Scotty McCreery (George W. Bush mixed with the cartoon kid on the cover of Mad magazine) or Jacob Lusk (who at any moment is going to explode with pent up emotion). Instead, Pia has just remained in the “safe category” in my head this whole time.

Turns out, most other people were thinking that too.  And we were wrong.  Big time.

The good news: I’m sure Pia won’t make it too long before she is offered a record deal by a respectable record label.  In fact, I bet the folks at American Idol didn’t let Pia pack her bags before they offered her a deal to her themselves.  Because unlike her brief stint on American Idol, Pia Toscano’s upcoming musical career has no end in sight.  Her heart will go on.

dad from day one: We’re Moving to Alabama… Next Weekend!

Week 1 of Jack’s life.

In the Season One finale of dad from day one, I promised an interesting plot twist.  So here in this premier of Season Two, I’m letting everyone know my own meaning of the phrase “Sweet Home Alabama”.

As I explained in due date, a common trait of ‘80’s sitcoms was that a family was introduced to an outsider who suddenly moved in their home, therefore creating a new sense of “normal”.  An exception was Just the Ten of Us, where the Lubbock family moved from the state of New York (the setting of Growing Pains, which it was a spin-off from) to California.  Dad from day one will be combining both of those plot devices: the newcomer and the new setting.  Next Saturday morning, December 4th (on the 4th day of Hanukkah- for any Jewish readers out there) we will pack up our PT Cruiser and Element for the 2 ½ trip (not counting baby delays) from Nashville, TN to the small mountain/valley town of Fort Payne, AL (pop. 14,000 not including illegal immigrants) where I was raised.

Something that makes this really interesting is when I am asked: “So do you have a job lined up?”  Nope.  That’s part of the reason we are so briskly making the Hometown Migration– so I can search full time for a new job during the whole month of December while living off leftover paychecks and savings.  Despite having nearly five years of career experience involving sales, doing trade shows, hiring, and training, I am not naïve to think that a new job will magically appear the week we move to Alabama.

However, I have this belief that as a follower of Jesus Christ, God knows I will make a lot of noise and commotion honoring Him before and after He answers my prayer.  And since I believe that glorifying God in all things is the ultimate meaning of life, I am confident that at the right time, God will provide for me so that I can provide for my family.  As Jesus put it, when a child asks his father for bread or fish to eat, his father doesn’t give him a stone or a serpent instead.  I love that example.

In Fort Payne, we will be living less than three miles from not only my parents but also my sister and her husband.  We know that this quiet town will not only be the right place for Baby Jack to grow up, but also the most practical place for my wife and I to care for him- to be able to watch him grow up slowly, as compared to seeing him only a couple of hours a day in a big city life.  There is no mall in Fort Payne; only a Super Wal-Mart.  There are oddly no Italian restaurants, which will be difficult for Baby Jack, my wife, and myself who all happen to be a quarter Italian and need marinara sauce and garlic bread in order to function properly.  And sadly, for my wife, there is no Starbucks: I think the nearest one is about an hour away.

A lifestyle without malls, Italian restaurants, and Starbucks is precisely what the three of us need.  Because despite leaving all those so-called conveniences behind, we will be able to slow down the pace of life to the speed it needs to be.  My wife and I are extremely happy about the move.  In a sitcom it’s pretty normal for each new season to bring about new characters on the show.  New characters, new city, new plotlines, here we come.


dad from day one: The Due Date

Forty weeks.

Don’t ask me how, but all week my wife and I have had the theme song to the ‘80’s sitcom Mr. Belvedere stuck in our heads.  In the mindset of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, we downloaded the song as our ringtones for when we call each other.  That has caused me to revisit some of my most favorite theme songs from these sitcoms that served as the backdrop of my childhood.  A very interesting trait that many of these TV shows had in common with each other (and accordingly, the lyrics to their theme songs) is that premise was that an outsider moved into the household, therefore throwing normalcy out of whack.  Which totally relates to what’s going through my head right now about our upcoming new addition, a baby boy. (In order to qualify, the sitcom had to actually start in the 1980’s; Diff’rent Strokes, Mork and Mindy, and The Facts of Life don’t qualify since since they premiered in the ’70’s.)

For example, here’s a sitcom that had it all, yet could have only existed in the 1980’s: An all-American family, laugh tracks, and an Alien puppet. Of course, I’m referring to Alf. While the song had no words (instead it sounded like what would happen if you pressed the “demo” button on a $200 Casio keyboard in 1988), the thought of a little creature running around the floor chasing cats loosely translates having a baby boy. For Family Matters, the intended outsider was Estelle Winslow who moved in with her son Carl’s family, though unexpectedly the true outsider instead became Steve Urkle (intended only as a guest star) instead a few episodes into the first season.

In Mr. Belvedere, a British butler moves in with an American family living in Philadelphia: “Sometimes things get turned around and no one’s spared… There’s a change in the status quo.  Preparing for our new arrival.  We might just live the good life yet…”


Another prime example is from one of my favorite sitcoms ever, which happens to have my favorite TV show theme song ever.  In Perfect Strangers, city slicker Larry Appleton is thrown for a curve when his distant cousin Balki moves from his mysterious Mediterranean village to live with Larry in Chicago: “Sometimes the world looks perfect- nothing to rearrange.  Sometimes you just get a feeling that you need some kind of change…”


In Full House, it was  Joey and Uncle Jesse who mixed things up by moving in with the Tanner family: “What ever happened to predictability?”

There was CBS’s version of Diff’rent Strokes: Webster.  As a kid, I actually liked Webster more than Arnold: “Til there was you…”


The next two sitcoms both premiered in 1984 and featured an Italian-American who moved into the household as a “manny”. Who’s the Boss? contains my 2nd favorite theme song ever and often caused me to believe that Tony Danza was my uncle: “You might awaken to a brand new life around the bend…”


Even though I never watched it, I know it was a big deal to a lot of people- Charles in Charge: “New boy in the neighborhood…”


You’re welcome… for being led into a world of nostalgia.  It’s pretty much a fact that you’ll be struggling to get one of those songs out of your head for the rest of the day.  So being such a sentimental guy as I am, I’ve been thinking about the current events that are going on right now.  That way I can tell Jack what was going on around the time he was born:

Interestingly, on November 5th, the movie Due Date hit theatres.  Daylight Savings was two days later; meaning that when it’s that time again to set back the clocks every year, it will almost be time for Jack’s birthday.  Conan O’Brien’s new show premiered this week (November 8th) and sure enough on last night’s episode during the monologue Conan pointed out that it was exactly nine months ago that his gig at The Tonight Show ended; so if because two people felt sad for Conan losing his job they decided to “get frisky” to be happy again, their child would be born this week.  Good call.

It will also be pretty neat that I will be able to show Jack the November 2010 issue of American Baby, in which in his birth was anticipated.  He is not making his debut unannounced; that’s for sure.  Today, November 11th, is not only Jack’s due date but it’s also my dad’s birthday, whose name is also Jack.  So even though he won’t have the same exact birthday as my dad, their birthdays will always be close.

Of all the pregnancy advice I’ve been given, the one thing no one warned me about is this: For first time moms, it’s normal and expected to not delivery until a full week after the due date.  So if you or your wife are approaching your due date, don’t do like I did and get all psyched, thinking the water is going to break at any moment.  Because then everyone is constantly asking for and expecting baby news, but sure enough, the baby is unaware of his due date.  He’s coming out when he’s good and ready.

I have to remind myself that my baby is not a Hot Pocket, with an exact predetermined time of two minutes in the microwave.  In fact, that would be pretty weird if he truly was born right near the due date.  We went to the doctor today.  Thank God, Baby Jack has still got a strong heartbeat and is in a good position.  He’s turned the correct way and everything.  But as far as when he gets here, I’m sure it will be the moment that I (and everyone else) least expects it.  He’s a sneaky little guy.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com




A Snapshot’s Worth a Thousand Words: At My Parents’ House in Alabama

Here are 17 snapshots.  Plus the 301 words in the body of this post, not including this heading.  You’re dealing with around 2001 words, my friends.

Today I’m taking a break from writing to share some random items in my parents’ house in Alabama, where my wife and I spent the weekend.  It’s true that every picture has a story.  And these little stories make up our lives- they make up who we are.  So by looking through these snapshots of the house I grew up in, you’re taking a look into my memory pool- the same one I use to write from.

This is Samantha Shell.  In September, she turned 20 years old.  Samantha is a Cockatiel.

This is one of two windows in my bedroom.  My parents bought that little guitar for me when they went to The Philippines in 1995.

This is my sister’s bedroom, which has recently been transformed into a guest nursery for Baby Jack.

Here is my dad’s 1988 Ford Ranger he bought nearly new.  It’s still his main vehicle.

You never know when you might have to blow your nose while driving to work; less than a 10 minute drive for him.

He put these plastic lizard in the dashboard several years ago.  He says it successfully scares away flies.

This cross used to be dark red and white.  It was crocheted circa 1993 and has been hanging on his mirror since then.

This cross is my Italian grandfather’s.

And it opens up, as my mom demonstrates.

Two monkeys and my sister the ballerina.

Yours truly, from 1986 to 1999.

My parents and I in 1982.

My friend David Smith and I broke this Nashville mug that my dad bought for my mom when he went on a business trip.  We stayed up until after 1 AM to superglue it back together.  I’m not sure that it actually still holds liquid.

Classic frog and shroom.

My sister and I in 1991.

Local newspaper clips on the fridge. Busted!

Double busted!

Why Tap Dancing is Officially Masculine (And Most Other Kinds of Dancing are Feminine)

Le tap dance; la clog.

Unlike the French and Spanish languages, English doesn’t have masculine and feminine nouns.  Yet still, there are subtle gender clues and accents if we look closely enough for them.  Like the way that Coldplay is masculine, while The Fray is feminine (because they got famous by having their songs featured on Grey’s Anatomy). And the way a Dodge Dakota is masculine; while a Nissan X-Terra is feminine (this was referenced in an episode of The Office).

During dinner a few weeks ago I happened to catch 20 minutes of So You Think You Can Dance.  It was a results episode so they were mainly filling the air time with professional tap dancers, all of which were male.  Mainly dancing solo, but there were a few duos.  Interestingly, after each of them danced, they were briefly interviewed.  I couldn’t help but notice that none of these male tap dancers were the least bit effeminate or sexually questionable in any way- they were ordinary, straight dudes.

I’m okay with being politically incorrect in stating this fact that we already know and recognize: It’s common for professional male dancers (especially on reality TV shows) to not be straight.  Which is ironic because as we watch these couples dance, the male is being represented by a man who in reality may not be sexually attracted to women.  Typically, straight men are not the ones representing the guy in the relationship in these dances.

Why are straight men typically inclined not to be good dancers?  Because group dancing and dancing in pairs, as a whole, are more of feminine acts.  Dancing as we know it today is free-spirited and emotionally expressive.  It often shows the ups and downs of relationships and/or life in general.  That doesn’t work for most men, because a man’s mind is wired to be formulaic and often emotionally repressive.  Most men have to “learn to dance”.  Tell me what to do so I can get this right. It’s more about straight memorization for a straight guy to learn to dance.  He’s learning to dance to make his girlfriend or wife happy- not to express himself in a new exciting way.

When I think of famous tap dancers throughout American history, I think of classy Italian, Jewish, and African-American men wearing black suits like Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines, and of course, the legendary Tony Danza.  Although, this isn’t to say that all or even most tap-dancing men are straight.  But what I do recognize is 1) that because tap dancing is simply based on rhythm and formula (which are masculine elements- famous female drummers are a rare thing), and 2) that tap dancing only really evokes one basic emotional feel, which is always positive and upbeat.  I never remember seeing a tap dancing routine which went from happy, to sad, to angry, back to happy, to a feeling of loss, to happy, to acceptance of grief, to contentment, the way a typical 2 minute dance song on Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance typically does.

Clogging, on the other hand, though similar to tap-dancing, is not masculine.  It often involves groups, costumes, and festive music- therefore making it a feminine art form, since there is room for “artistic expression”.  But square dancing is masculine because, like in tap-dancing, the mood is always the same (upbeat) and there is no guesswork on how to do it, since the instructions are typically spoken to music.

So how could a man and a woman dance to music and it realistically represent them and their relationship?  I’m picturing a guy tap dancing in his own little world while the woman ballet dances around him, and the guy is seemingly oblivious to what is going on.

How Race and Religion are Connected and Why Isaac and Ishmael are behind It All

This is me in a video I made for you, which explains all this in a 5 and a half minute video, in case you prefer that over reading the 1378 word blog post below it, which I wrote 7 years ago.

Meet your great-grandfather Isaac.  Or Ishmael.  Or maybe even both…

How do you determine who ethnically is a “white person” and who is not?  Are Jews considered to be white?  What about Greeks and Italians?  And though Central and South Americans typically have tan skin, why is it there something about them still seems sort of white, as opposed to a person from India or China? These are some of the “side effect” questions that will be answered as I explain my theory on the origin of race and religion.

No, this theory doesn’t start with Adam and Eve.  Nor does it start with Noah and his family repopulating the world after the Great Flood.  It starts 20 generations after Adam, and 10 generations after Noah, with Abraham (the father of the Jewish and the Arab people), being promised by God that he would have a son in his old age.  After waiting and having no sign of this coming true, Abraham’s wife Sarah convinced him to sleep with their Egyptian maidservant Hagar, in order to have a son to carry on the family lineage.  At age 86, Abraham goes with his wife’s plan (like the way Adam ate the fruit after Eve convinced him to) and has a son with his maidservant- the son is named Ishmael.  However, 13 years later Abraham’s wife Sarah gets pregnant with a son, as God promised, and this son is named Isaac.

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Abraham eventually sends away his maidservant Hagar and his son Ishmael into the wilderness (Genesis 21:14), and raises Isaac his as true first-born son.  Today, thousands of years later, it is through Ishmael that Arabs and Muslims link their heritage through.  Accordingly, Jews and Christians trace through heritage back to Isaac.  Now we are in the meat of my theory.

As generations passed and both families migrated from their Middle Eastern homelands, the descendants of Ishmael moved south and east- to Africa, Asia, and America (becoming the Native American Indians in North America and the Aztec Indians in Central and South America).  In fact, the angel of the Lord told Hagar that Ishmael “will live east of all his brothers” (Genesis 16:12).  Meanwhile the descendants of Isaac moved north and west- to Europe, Russia, and eventually to America (killing off, running off, or marrying the Native American Indians).

Notice how today the countries that are represented by the descendants of Ishmael are generally practice religions that do not involve the Judeo-Christian God (worshipped by Christians, Catholics, and Jews) but instead are tied Hinduism, Animism, Taoism, Buddhism, Communism (Atheism) and Islam.  And of course the descendants of Isaac are matched to the Christianized nations: For example, Scotland is mainly Protestant, Ireland is mainly Catholic, and England is mainly Anglican (Presbyterian).

Almost 2,000 years ago thanks the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys to preach Christ where the Jews had already settled (in Europe, specifically the Mediterranean areas) and also the birth of Christianity as a whole, the countries that were already familiar with the Judeo-Christian God were basically the first to get introduced to Jesus as the Messiah.  As far as all the Ishmael-descended areas, like modern day Africa and Asia that were less familiar or not familiar at all with Christianity, they were not and have not typically been as generally open and accepting to “our God” as Isaac’s descendants.

The Ishmaelese Middle East

Ishmaelese Africa

Ishmaelese Asia

I do believe that whether or not a nation (or individual person) is a descendent of Isaac has much to do with their religion, race, and culture.  However, there are obviously exceptions.  One of them is Russia, which had been mainly Christian up until the point of its embrace of Communism.  Another exception is African-Americans, whom most identify with Christianity, as opposed to most Africans living in Africa.

And then there’s the “half breed” nations that make up Central and South America.  For the most part, their blood is mixed of Indigenous Americans (Native American, Aztec, etc.) who migrated from Asia through modern day Alaska, and European lineage from those who “discovered” America.  So in essence, the inhabitants of modern day Central and South America are half Isaackian, half-Ishmaelese; though they have accepted the religious beliefs of Isaac’s descendants (largely Catholic).  Read more about this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_peoples_of_the_Americas

Yes, I did just now make up and use the words Isaackian (to describe the descendants of Isaac who are prone to believe in the Judeo-Christian God) and Ishmaelese (to describe the descendants of Ishmael who typically do not).  And now that you hopefully understand what those terms represent, I will begin using them frequently.

What started much of this thought process was when I recently began “Climbing the Family Tree” and realized that so many of my ancestors had last names that are Jewish (Schell, Klaar, Ullman, Wiseman, Vite) yet there is no solid proof that I actually am- only family rumors and tradition.  If I assume that none of the people in my family tree were Jewish, well, still, I have Jewish names in my family tree.  So that got me thinking, Jewish people and “white people” are essentially the same thing, coming from the same common ancestors.  Whereas someone who is Japanese (Ishmaelese) wouldn’t have last names in their family tree that would resemble a Jewish last name.

So going back to one of the questions I asked in the beginning, are Jewish people considered to be white?  Yes.  Though their homeland is Israel and though they are a Middle Eastern people group, they blend in with us Americans so well.  And that’s part of my fascination with pointing out which celebrities are Jewish.  Half the casts of Friends and Seinfeld are Jewish (The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of Friends and Seinfeld) as well as The Wonder Years (The Ethnicity of the Cast of The Wonder Years), but the fact that most of us don’t know which ones are or aren’t shows that despite most of us being a mix of European blood, those Middle Eastern descended Jews are still our cousins.

Of course ultimately, it doesn’t matter which of us descended from Isaac or Ishmael or how much blood we have of either (I’m around 12.5% Ishmaelese); it just predicts the tone of our skin and our traditional religion, according to my theory.  By no means do I see the Isaackians as superior to Ishmaelese for the fact that I myself worship the Judeo-Christian God.  But what I do recognize is what God himself proclaimed to Abraham regarding Isaac and Ishmael:

But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac, and I will establish my everlasting covenant for his descendants after him,” (Genesis 17:19).

“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I will bless him, and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly.  He shall become the father of 12 princes, and I will make him a great nation,” (Genesis 17:20).

What’s most important from those verses I just quoted is that God promised to establish his covenant through the line of Isaac.  In other words, the savior of the world would come in the form of a Jew.  Not to mention that the Isaackians coincidently would hold the responsibility of sharing their God with the Ismaelese- that’s why Christian missionaries exist.  That’s why Christianity is now the largest religion of the Ishmaelese country of South Korea, for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Korea#Religion

We all have the same great-grandparents at the tops of our family trees.  I try to imagine how different the world would be if Abraham wouldn’t have had a son with Hagar, if he just would have waited another 13 years for his own wife to become pregnant.  But he jumped the gun and changed the course of history (for him, it was the future) forever.  Though if he didn’t, I wouldn’t exist, being that my grandmother is Mexican.  Not only would I have not written this and you wouldn’t have read it, but there wouldn’t have been any of this to write about.

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