Brown skin. Brown eyes. Brown hair. I didn’t want to look like me, who did? Every single person on TV had white skin, blonde hair, and colored eyes. Growing up in Fontana, California in the late 90’s, early 2000’s you’d think my Spanish tongue was sharp and proud. However, my role-models were Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen because they were everywhere—in movies, on TV, in the stores as dolls and on clothes. They were idolized by young people all over the world! I wanted to be just like them. I would go to bed dreaming I’d wake up with white skin and blue eyes…that suddenly those very traits would make me appealing to the public world.
Thinking about “younger me” terrifies me. I had such a horrifyingly unhealthy perception about what was systematically attractive. Was there something wrong with me? I made it a point to solely hang out with super-Americanized girls. At age ten, I didn’t want anyone to think my English was broken, so I lost my Spanish accent…if there was even any accent left at all.
Spanish was my first language, but I dismissed it after going into grade school. It’s interesting, I think about that quote up there and it isn’t my family who pushed me to grow up this way. If anything, seeing them should have inspired me to rid myself of this societal mindset that only “white people matter.”
Summers in El Paso, Texas were a treat. Every morning at 7am, I’d wake up with my grams to have café con leche, ‘coffee with milk.’ We’d have our jar of animal crackers and oatmeal cookies at hand, and gossip about Telenovelas (Spanish Soap Operas). It was in these mornings, I felt my truest self. I wasn’t hiding my heritage, I never forgot how to say a Spanish word, and I was in the presence of my Mexican grandma who was proud and honored of her culture. I look back at these moments and wish I could tell myself that it is those moments I should boast about and celebrate most. My parents migrated from Mexico at young ages separately—my mom at age two from Chihuahua and my dad at age sixteen from Zacatecas. My mom only has recollection of Mexico from vacations spent there. My dad has his whole childhood and early teen years memorized spent en la ciudad de Zacatecas. I never thought my mom had an accent until a friend of mine in the seventh grade brought it to my attention.
“Omg your mom’s accent is so sweet!” I quickly rolled my eyes and replied, “What accent? She doesn’t have one!” completely baffled and embarrassed. I scoffed at the idea that my mom’s English might be broken. She was my mom! She knew better than I did! I didn’t want us attached to the ‘Mexican narrative.’ But my dad’s accent said otherwise; it is strong and audible, almost tangible. One will see nothing but “brown” the moment they see my dad–dark brown skin, dark brown eyes, construction clothes as his main choice of apparel, and the lingering Mexican accent.
He is the societal “cliché” for Mexican Men, but he is the wisest, most selfless, hard-working goofball you will ever meet. My dad hasn’t stopped working since he entered the States. Both of my parents are LEGAL permanent residents, but not citizens. They’ve contributed more to America than some Americans have, and I recognize that now; I am proud of them.
I experienced my first “awakening” in my final years of high school. I was eager to see change in representation for people of color in both Hollywood and in the work field. I was a theater kid with this huge dream of becoming an actress, and I understood then, it was a pretty unattainable dream, especially for women of color. Instead of that discouraging me or paralyzing me—instead of dismissing my background like I did in grade school—I was prepared to dismantle the stereotype attached to Mexican women. I was going to smash the idea that we must play maids, or “spicy-hot-headed” support roles. We have seen it defied by Selena Quintanilla in the music industry and Salma Hayek in the movie industry! These two Mexican women were kicking ass way before many of us were born! Fast forward to 2018 and you’re seeing the Latina community come to life as if they were only now given a platform. Oh wait, they basically were! We saw Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Rodriguez, Eva Longoria, and America Ferrera represent Latina Women as best they could in the earlier years, but there were still stigmas in Hollywood; there was still not enough lead roles created for them. Now, we’re seeing women like Zoe Saldana and Gina Rodriguez break the mold ferociously. They’re going into Hollywood relentlessly requesting proper representation. Gina Rodriguez denied an innumerable amount of roles prior to Jane the Virgin, that could have given her major exposure–but that exposure would have been taking on the role of every single stereotype she wanted to destroy.
She had been at this for a while and finally received the role she deserved at age 28. Every single woman I listed has demanded change. I mean, you see these women work twice as hard as a man would. Because the reality for a woman as a minority is just that. We are the minority. We are still asking. And we are still experiencing inequality.
I sit here, typing this in Louisville, Kentucky, a predominantly white city – but progressive at best. It’s home to many refugees, LGBTQA+ friendly, and all around welcoming. Donald Trump became president the year I moved out here and I’d say it was the beginning of his campaign that truly sparked my drive to advocate for my culture and for every other culture. Hearing him say it was imperative to build a wall between Mexico and the States because Mexicans are all “rapist drug dealers” quite literally pissed me the hell off. “They are not our friend, believe me,” he said, before disparaging Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”–Trump. Not only was this the bait to reel anyone in that shared his beliefs, but it started the belief that all Mexicans here in the States are illegal aliens who only steal jobs from the American people. I am dumbfounded that people who don’t share that belief decided to look past it and vote for him anyway…primarily for money and business purposes. “He’s a businessman and he states to be Christian so that’s good enough for me!”
What politician is perfect? None. But I’d sure hope that the American people would want to elect a leader into presidency out of merit, honor, empathy for the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the voiceless, and the oppressed. None of these traits of which are attributes Trump heeded or heeds.
This isn’t an article to slam Trump though—however ridiculous, incompetent, and psychopathic this human is. I’m here to talk about why growing up as a person of color was damaging to my psyche, or if you will, my superego. I understand talking about this subject can be controversial, and maybe you don’t understand why at a young age, I didn’t like my background. I don’t want to blame all white people for my being embarrassed or insecure as a little girl. I know there are many amazing, inclusive, progressive white persons advocating for people of color–marching with us and for us. Many of them recognize that this isn’t about them and they’re using their platform well.
But I will say, our founding fathers, the government, and the media could have done something differently (they still can do something differently).
Our country is broken. Our policies, unfair. The reality is, if people at the beginning of time didn’t believe their race was the superior race, or the only attractive race — we wouldn’t be in this predicament today. There wouldn’t be thousands of history books where black people and natives had to fight diligently for their lives. America wouldn’t have been founded on bloodshed and xenophobia. Europeans wouldn’t have stolen or soiled Native land. Black people wouldn’t have been spending day and night protesting against slavery. They wouldn’t be tirelessly requesting job equality, wage equality, and basic human, civil rights each second of their existence. Instead there would be history books of Natives, Black people, and White people in office, making executive decisions together for everyone as a whole — because they would have understood that this newly founded nation was made up of cultural diversity.
I had the opportunity to visit Puerto Vallarta, Mexico last year in May. I had been to Mexico a couple of times before the memories could stay engraved. This trip was special, for several reasons. For one, it was my decision to visit this time around; If you would have asked me to visit several years ago, I would have said “heck no!” Mostly because I was paranoid about some of the things going on over there. We have to be smart, no matter where we go. Heck…we could be going to church or to school and get killed right here in America. I digress though. Puerto Vallarta was beautiful! There is nothing like seeing your heritage up close–being able to smell it–taste it–embrace it and love it.
My Air Bnb was located in a urban neighborhood, right in front of a river. The houses and units that surrounded were bright, rustic, and etched with story.
The river was evidently dry…yet there was more life and vibrancy to it, then some of the most flowing rivers around the world have. I would wake up each morning, go outside onto the balcony that overlooked the river and watch families wash their clothes, kids run in and out of the water, and abandoned dogs drink from it. It reminded me of the stories my dad would tell me about his experience with the local rivers in la ciudad de Zacatecas.
The people of Mexico are kind, gracious, hard-working, and incredibly loving. Emma and I ate chilaquiles and drank cafe de olla every single morning at a local restaurant called, Cafe de Olla. The workers had memorized our faces and welcomed us in each time as if we were family. I get emotional thinking about my time there because for so long, I had a negative, distorted image in my head about Mexico and its people. Mexico and its people, my people proved the stereotypes in my head wrong. Poverty and injustice are real and plentiful out there, still people persist. You will see children, women, and men go out onto public streets selling anything they can. Mostly, they’re selling enchanting art pieces–all handmade–jewelry, clothes, purses, and blankets. Each article evidently woven and created with character, pride, and joy. No matter how happy and accommodating the natives were to Emma and I, I acknowledge that what we see isn’t always what is. I understand that Mexico is a broken country, and that some of its residents don’t have an ideal situation. Oftentimes, those very residents will find refuge in countries that do seem ideal. Like America. Most Mexicans have this perception of America being safe, free, and economically / financially stable. Which is not a misconception for the American people–but to the refugee, yes. Because these refugees enter our country hoping for the best, doing their best, and in turn receive oppression and opposition. America is like a shiny, gold ticket that the entire world gets to see but not touch. Mexico is our sister country–how are we going to close the door on a family member who can literally see us from their yard?
America has resources, money, and opportunity. Why can’t we continue to help countries who don’t have that? Trump has said on multiple occasions that he doesn’t want other countries giving us their baggage anymore. And that just baffles me…because it is the christian people who voted him into office, continue to feed his enormous ego, and hold him as highly as they do God. A group that professes they’re walking in the spirit of The Lord, yet all they do is cherry-pick bible verses, applying and justifying bigoted behavior all because it is “God’s plan.” I, along with countless of others are sick to our stomach about this! I weep with every single one of my brothers and sisters who have been pushed down because of their skin color.
… also, just so we’re clear, Jesus was a brown Jewish man from the Middle East…so…like…isn’t this just incredibly awkward for the white, Christian folk who are pro Trump’s ‘wall’ ? Do you think they know the man they praise and love is not white or American?! Should we tell them?! Should we also tell them that God’s number one law is to love your neighbor better than you love yourself?
For most people of color, all they know is ridicule, shame, and oppression. Many of them grew up like me, embarrassed of their skin color–embarrassed of their culture–embarrassed of their ethnic features. All simply because no one on TV looked like them. Because instead of casting the brown girl as the heroic protagonist, they cast her as the maid. Instead of making passageway for The Dreamer and the refugee–they build walls. A few men from the Middle East crash, deliberately into the Twin Towers, and suddenly everyone from the Middle East is now a terrorist? We’re taking away Mosques, we’re questioning every single man with dark skin and a beard, we’re throwing slander at women in hijabs…it’s disgusting behavior. Yet, a plethora of white, American males have killed, continue to kill, thousands of innocent lives with guns at movie theaters, schools, churches, shopping malls, clubs, concerts, and restaurants and no warrant is out for men that fit their description. White men aren’t being questioned when they purchase a gun. White men aren’t being detained at Airports. White men just aren’t generalized because what an absurd notion to generalize people, right?! People of color have been generalized their whole lives. For all of history. People of color have been stripped of their identity, ripped apart from their families, from their homes, from their comfort — all because our government has told us to be afraid of them.
So when movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ are created, why are people offended? When people of color suddenly stand up for themselves and vocalize their trauma, requesting for basic human decency just like their white brothers and sisters receive–why do specific groups of people grow outraged? Why do movements like ‘All lives matter’ have to be created? Black people aren’t saying that they’re the only color that matters. Of course all people matter. They’re not saying otherwise. Black people are just exhausted of having to get the brunt of every single circumstance. They’ve received the shitty end of the stick for centuries now; they deserve the stage. They deserve equality in every form. They deserve to have their own movement. They’re allowed to have this movement. We’ve taken so much from them–let them keep this.
Cafe con leche could translate to, black and white. That is why I decided to call this essay as such. The notion that we can mix the two and savor it–each color contributing individually and together. I want to encourage people of color who are ashamed of their skin, ashamed of their upbringing, and ashamed of their culture. I want to encourage us to continue to be vocal–continue to march–continue to protest–continue to want to see change–until equality is a real and tangible thing for all of us.
Sometimes I get so numb to what’s going on around me, that I feel disposable and helpless. But I am not disposable nor helpless.
I have a voice and so do you, and I am going to continue to talk about this until I don’t have to anymore.