Comfortable with the middle
With dark curly hair and an aquiline nose, Allen Bailey said that the best way to explain the culture in his family is, “I thought there were two Christmases [in every household].”
Every year, the Baileys would celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 and Three Kings Day, or El Día de los Reyes, 12 days later on Jan 6. An important holiday in many Spanish-speaking regions like Puerto Rico, Three Kings Day celebrates the biblical journey of the three kings who traveled to Bethlehem for baby Jesus. Though to put it plainly, Bailey receives presents twice around New Year.
Bailey is a sophomore studying entrepreneurship and accounting. He’s Puerto Rican and lives in the town of Gates right outside of Rochester, New York.
Despite his strong Hispanic culture at home, Bailey said that, “If you take one look at me, I don’t look Puerto Rican.”
His mom was born near the city of Ponce in Puerto Rico and has Spanish heritage. His dad was born in New York City and moved to Ponce at the age of four. Bailey’s paternal grandfather is half black and half white (his mother is a Ukrainian Jew). He married a black Puerto Rican woman. Bailey’s dad is consequently mixed black, Hispanic and Ukrainian Jew.
“I’m like a petri dish of genes,” said Bailey. His dad is tan with overtly black and Hispanic facial features. Bailey’s older brother is tanner than his dad and his younger sister. “If I show you her, you’d see where the Ukrainian Jew ended up in the family.” She has pale skin, curly light brown hair and freckles across her face.
The family moved to Gates when Bailey’s dad got a job at the Eastman Kodak Company, aka Kodak, as an electrical engineer. Before that, Bailey said that his dad didn’t enjoy his time in Puerto Rico. “He said the only good thing about being in Puerto Rico for him was that he met my mom,” said Bailey.
Growing up as an American from the mainland, Bailey’s dad was often made fun of – even by his first-grade teacher – and called a “gringo,” a term that broadly refers to Americans who cannot speak Spanish or Hispanics who are not in touch with their Latin roots.
When they moved to Gates, the Baileys found a community of three other Puerto Rican households whose experiences mirrored theirs. They would trade houses around holiday times – say they would all gather at the Santiagos for the Fourth of July, the Hernandezes for Thanksgiving and the Cabreras for Christmas.
Coincidentally, Bailey's and his two siblings’ age exactly corresponds with that of the Santiagos’ children. “Growing up we had people who are our counterparts in a different family,” he said, “Their parents were from the island, but they’re raised in Rochester.” The families had very similar cultures and were the closest things he had to family outside of his own home.
The Baileys also has the tradition of driving around town on Sundays, a family ritual reminiscent of the days when Bailey’s parents were dating and drove around the island. Now they drive a minivan, and Bailey’s dad, who got his MBA from Rochester Institute of Technology and taught for some years as an adjunct professor, would always end up talking about business in the car, and his mom, an accountant, would join in too.
His parents promoted intellectual curiosity and would test him with questions. Bailey’s dad said, at a young age, Bailey answered questions that he prepared for his graduate students. His dad would make sure that Bailey understood the business concepts by asking Bailey to explain them to him. He had a knack for it. “That's one blessing in my life, I can always say that business has always made sense to me,” said Bailey.
In school, Bailey said that no one could really label his racial identity, and he appreciates that. He loves the cultural and traditional labels concerning the origin of one’s family and their ethnic background, but he doesn’t like labels of race.
“With just about all the groups I joined, I'm typically the only ‘me’ there,” Bailey said, “I’ve never been exactly them; I can’t go to a group of Puerto Ricans and say, ‘I’m just like you.’” However, because of his background, he is able to “wear a lot of different hats” and “understand other people wearing a lot of different hats.”
Bailey said that in this sense, he’s always been someone people could vent to or ask for advice. Seeing many sides of a problem is almost his specialty because of how he grew up.
“Just by being both a middle child, being the middle of my different friend groups, partly due to the fact that I'm in the middle of a lot of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, it's just who I am,” said Bailey.
Rochester is home to several big-name companies like Kodak, Xerox and Wegmans. His dad also co-started a small web development company as a side business. His mother is an accountant. It made perfect sense that Bailey now studies, entrepreneurship and accounting.
He said that he’s always known that he’s going to start his own company one day. Meanwhile, through the classes he’s taking in Whitman, he also found something he likes even better than accounting: business law.
Bailey wants to go to law school. “I heard it changes the way you think,” he said. “Those three years are meant to teach you how to think like a lawyer and see things from all angles,” which he’s always been accustomed to doing anyway.
For now, he is almost halfway into the study of business. Where will the sum of his past lead him? “Your guess is as good as mine,” Bailey said.
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