Hodel was born in 1951 to a prominent white family in California. Before birth, Hodel was bargained off to a black woman (Jimmie Lee Greenwade) working as a restroom attendant in a casino. In order to ensure that Hodel never found her birth family, her birth mother changed the race of her father on her birth certificate to read “negro.” Greenwade was expecting the baby to take after her birth father and take on a darker skin tone. However, when she was born, she was clearly a white baby and very light skinned.
From that moment on, Greenwade doubted that Hodel was truly a mixed-race child. Hodel, however, Hodel grew up under the impression that she was black. During an era of extreme racial tension, she was subject to abnormal amounts of prejudice from both black and white communities.
Hodel never was treated as truly black. Hodel faced violence and abuse from her black mother, who wished more than anything that her adopted daughter was dark skinned.
Hodel was also rejected by the white community, as her upbringing in United States black culture made her seem different from a typical white person.
All of this was complicated further by segregation-era social normalities. Navigating rules that favored whites when she looked white but identified as black was difficult.
With a history of incest, murder and social prominence, Hodel was shocked to discover whose blood really ran through her veins and her true racial composition.
Even despite the cultural confusion and lack of a sense of self, Hodel rose through adversity and sought to take her experiences and use them for good.
“She gracefully and miraculously came out, never a victim of circumstances and vowed to tell her story of love and perseverance,” said daughter Gentile.
“She was kind, compassionate, and loving, always. I think she decided to be the polar opposite of everything she experienced,” said her youngest daughter, Pecoraro.
“We hope to perpetuate love and kindness like our mother every day.”
Her autobiography, “One Day She’ll Darken” walks the readers through the experience of lacking identity in an identity-driven world.
Despite the challenging upbringing Hodel faced, she also sought to continue Greenwade’s legacy through the book.
“Since Jimmie Lee’s death, Fauna has maintained her memory by telling a story that covers two decades of strife, heartache, comedy, omissions and mistakes, incest and murder, intrigue and bizarre behavior; but always with the purpose of overcoming the color barrier that she lived with from the day she was born,” writes a preview of the novel.
Hodel’s experiences have also graced the artistic world when in 2015 her story was told at the Curfman Gallery at Colorado State University (CSU). The exhibition was entitled “Beyond Color: A Life Journey Using Art to Transcend Culture,” and it was “a multimedia journey through the maze of a life with unimaginable twists and turns and unbelievable characters, with the goal of delivering a message of love and understanding that transcends race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, time and geography,” said Doug Sink, director of arts programs at CSU.
Currently, Turner Network Television is in the midst of producing a TV series on her life story “One Day She’ll Darken.” It will be told by director Patty Jenkins (who incidentally is a military B.R.A.T.) and screenwriter Sam Sheridan as well as stars Chris Pine of Wonder Woman and Star Trek fame, and India Eisley.
Hodel passed in September of 2017 after a valiant fight with breast cancer. She left an incredible legacy behind her in her two daughters. Her acceptance of all human beings, passion for kindness and warmth towards others proves how easy it can be to see past color and just love people for who they are.