Trinity Valera-Mertineit, Columnist // Emma Harris
I am Trinity. Without labels, without preconceptions and, at a first glance, that is simply who I am before anything else. In many ways I have to remind myself of that, before my racial ambiguity and before my talent. I’ve always had a dream and it’s a simple one that I’ve been sure of since I can remember. I want to sing. My voice has brought me great passion, and singing is what has made me who I am.
Since I was young, I knew I was different. I always say that my grandparents visually represent me as the paint on a palette just before it’s mixed together, making a blend that compares to my cappuccino complexion. My Granny on my father’s side was born and raised in Trinidad and my Papa in Germany. On my mother’s side, Lolo and Lola Carmen are from the Philippines. My racial diversity has set me apart from others and I’ve found myself always trying to fit in. My skin is too light to be black and too dark to be white, and although I look half-Filipino, I never learned the language. People around me were always confused, and their curiosity always got the best of them. “Are you (insert any ethnicity)?” they’d say. “But you don’t look black,” they’d follow up. “Are you sure? You really look (insert any ethnicity).” Or, “You can’t be German, you’re not white.” I felt alienated from others and from myself. It made me question who I was despite my self-certainty. I became the “other”. Eventually it got to a point where these questions desensitized me from some of the underlying prejudice in the tones.
I became aware that my diversity could affect my life in ways that weren’t always fair when I started musical theatre. As soon as I started, I could never go back. My passion for theatre sparked. Although musical theatre is something I love, it’s always held the power to bring me down. My skills didn’t seem to matter once I was ruled out for certain roles solely on my appearance, because I wasn’t in line with the “traditional ethnicities” of many of these characters. I felt a constant need to prove my worth and to work harder than others just to get the same level of consideration. I knew I would never play the caucasian lead role even if the role was perfect for me. Through all the self-doubt in the back of my mind I know I’m capable, even when people say otherwise to my face. It wasn’t until I was given the opportunity to perform an iconic role that I felt connected to my character, in more ways than one, as a person of colour.
It was the opening night of my school’s production of <i>Hairspray<i> and I played the role of Motormouth Maybelle. The scene had started and I walked on stage for my cue – all I could feel was my gut twisting. I was about to sing my character’s main song called, “I Know Where I’ve Been”. The monologue before the song was a blur and all I felt was myself shaking. Then the first few notes rang from the pit orchestra below my feet, and everything changed. I can’t describe the feeling I had as I sang my truth. I will never find enough words to truly give justice to the feeling. The artist and activist, Nina Simone, talked about this feeling in an interview, in which she could only describe it as “no fear.” That “no fear” was the only way to be truly free. I thought about all the adversity I had faced all my life, all the hardships I had gone through and how much I had overcome, and I had no fear. I know where I’ve been, just as it’s stated in the song, and I would never again be afraid of where I’m going.
Going into this industry as a person of colour is without a doubt terrifying and uncertain, yet the industry is constantly evolving. I remember the year Hamilton blew up and I thought, “Maybe I have a chance, too.” There are now places for people like me, opportunities that I can grasp. Musical theatre has always been my dream, and I know that I will never give up that dream. If there isn’t a place for me, I will find a place. My diversity sets me apart from others in a positive way, and I know that it will always be a strength rather than a weakness. I want to be able to represent people of colour going into this industry, and I want to be able to encourage people who are biracial to do what they love while being proud of their diverse background. I have never been anything but proud of my culture and upbringing, and I have never been someone to back away from a challenge – you could say I’m utterly fearless.