Through multiple hours of constantly scrolling through Tumblr, flipping through Teen Magazines, and watching white girls dye their hair pink—I desired to be white. I would look down at my brown skin and feel ashamed, feel ugly, and even condemn my mother for it. I was not always like this; I grew up wearing Colombian jeans, super glossy lip-gloss, and my golden, diamond covered nameplate necklace with pride. My Friday and Saturday nights were covered with grinding to Ivy Queen with big Latina hoops and leaving phone numbers at the club at the age 13. I was livin’ the life as a brown Latina in Jackson Heights—everyone wanted to be Colombian or be the baddest Colombian in the block.
Somehow eating arepas, waking up to Salsa being blasted up by my neighbors, and playing soccer with the homies was coming to an end—I hated being brown. I was so convinced that white girls were prettier, smarter, and better than me in every way possible. This influence did not only come from the outside, but also it came from home. My mother would always say, “casate con un hombre blanco para mejorar la raza” (marry a white man to better the race) or say anti-black sayings such as, “si el negro no la caga en la entrada, la caga en la salida” (if the Black man does not fuck up in the beginning, he will mess it up at the end). Throughout the years, my own family made me conscious of how “horrible” I was going to look if I out in the sun for too long or what people would think of me if I keep wearing my big hoops around white people in the city. I started being angry, not only with myself for being the brown Chula that I am, but also being even angrier with my mother. “Why didn’t you marry a white man if you praise them so much?” I would start asking her and making her feel guilty for her decisions of marrying my beautiful indigenous Peruvian father. She would look at me with sad eyes, telling me that was one of her dreams when arriving to Los Estados Unidos.
The story of the moment when a brown girl hated to be in the sun, hated her skin, and hated her raza more than the lack of love she had for herself. This is for the traviesas that ached to belong, but now know better.
I remember the night when I came back from camp with my best friend, I started putting all my hoops in a box and hiding them under the pile of warm pajamas my father would bring me from Peru. I started hanging out in Brooklyn’s gentrified streets and I even made my boyfriend feel ashamed of his Afro-Honduran roots. I would lower Wisin & Yandel when entering these streets, dye my hair green in order to fit in, and even listen to music I never really related to. One time, my parents asked me why I hung out in Brooklyn so much and they pled to take them. It saddens me now to think I would always walk 5 steps in front of them, so hipsters would not associate them with me. I hated that I was Colombian and Peruvian, I hated my culture, and most importantly—I hated that my skin reflected all of these things at once.
It took a prestigious school to teach me to love myself. Once I got accepted to Syracuse University, my first thoughts were, “I am going to be just like them and I am finally just as good as they are.” As soon as I got there, I made white friends—the kind that would wear Guadalupe crop tops, drink PBR, and have cornrows but claim, “they are simply just braids!!!!” I needed to escape. I found my Latinas (Thank God), made our own spaces, and became a radical Latina through studying Women’s and Gender Studies. After finding out what “Whiteness” meant, I was in awe. “This is what I dealt with MY WHOLE LIFE,” I screamed after class. No one understood me or knew why the concept of ‘whiteness’ was so important to me.
I came back home after my first year and asked my mother for all my jewels back. I remember her asking why I wanted my hoops and rings back. I told her it was a part of who I am and everyone wants to claim it is theirs by selling hoops online for 80 bucks, when it was clearly ours from the start. It took so much to tell my mother that for all these years, she was one of the reasons why I hated myself. Until this day she still says things like “I would be prettier with blue eyes, wouldn’t I?” As a first generation Latina, I am here to constantly bring awareness of what whiteness has done to our generations and our Latin community. I will wear my red lipstick, my nameplate necklace, and my big Latina hoops until there is not one brown girl wishing she were someone else.
Remember that your traviesa chula existence is a resistance in Amerikkka.