The Struggles Of Being A Light-Skinned, Mixed-Race Latina

The Struggles Of Being A Light-Skinned, Mixed-Race Latina

"You don't even look Mexican at all!"
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I have always struggled with my racial and cultural identity.

Coming from a Mexican-American household, especially in today's political climate, my issues with racial and cultural identity continually multiply. For those of you who know me, you'll know I'm half Mexican and half American (with German heritage). But for those of you who don't, I already know what you think of me.

You think I'm white.

My father was born and raised on a ranch in Palmar Chico, Mexico. He emigrated to the United States when he was only 15 years old. He worked as a busboy, then a dishwasher, and then a cook at a greasy spoon diner in Chicago, which is where he met my mother. They got married, and I am the result of said marriage.

When I was an infant, I had a more stereotypical Latina "look" to me. I had dark brown hair and dark eyes. Within three years, my hair and eyes lightened and my skin grew out of its redness into a more ivory tone. Since then, I've always had mid-to-light brown hair and light olive green eyes. I've been able to "pass" as white all my life.

But that isn't something that should be celebrated.

Though some people envy the fact that mixed-race children can fall into one of two categories at any given time, (one of those categories often being white), telling someone that they "look white" or "don't look Hispanic" is the definition of erasure, and is significantly more harmful than people make it seem.

You are erasing that individual's racial and cultural background with your dismissal of their identities.

Even the most so-called respectful people do this. Without thinking, they might say something innocent-sounding like, "Oh, you're Irish, right?" or "You don't even look Mexican at all!" and while they may have the best of intentions, their assumptions help perpetuate a cycle of dismissive language and misconceptions about how individuals from certain racial and cultural backgrounds should look and behave.

Racial and cultural dismissal comes from both non-Latinos and Latinos alike.

Being so surprised and telling someone you "can't believe [they're] Hispanic or Latina!" isn't a compliment. It's a subtle, backhanded slap to the face. This type of thinking becomes toxic, especially when a mixed-race person tries to adhere to their cultural traditions, such as dress, hairstyles, cuisine, and media.

For instance, if you don't look a certain, stereotypical way, you get ousted as not being a real Latina.

In 8th grade, my best friend's sister styled my hair in flat twists for our 8th grade luncheon (which was the big style for pre-teens in the late 2000s). Growing up, my aunts would always fix my hair in flat twists because it was a simple way to style long, wavy hair in an elegant manner. To this day, all of my younger Mexican cousins wear their hair in this style. Flat twists have stood the test of time.

Though my friend and I had the same hairstyle at the luncheon, a fellow classmate took the liberty of writing in my yearbook: "You can't wear your hair like that. You're not P.R." (Puerto Rican). Her snide comment about my hair was a blatant implication was that I wasn't Latina enough to wear my hair in that style.

What was more "Latina" than a last name like Reynoso and a father born in Mexico?

Though this is only one isolated instance of dismissing a mixed-race child's ability to adhere to their culture through style, it's an instance that has stuck with me for over nine years.

It has also been difficult to build stronger relationships with my relatives due to a stark language barrier. My lack of ability to speak Spanish is yet another target for the argument that I'm not a true Latina.

The majority of my dad's side of the family doesn't speak English, and after six years of in-school instruction, I still cannot speak Spanish fluently. My dad never taught me how to speak his native tongue, and though I could mull his reasoning over until the day I die, the fact of the matter is: not learning Spanish fluently when I was a child proved to be a detriment.

When I was younger than six, speaking Spanish with my relatives came rather naturally for me.

Since I spent a significant amount of time with my aunts and cousins who would speak Spanish to me, I could respond to and converse with them without ever giving the language nor my cultural identity a second thought. I was cognizant of the fact that I didn't look like my other cousins or aunts, but that never fazed me; at least I knew we could communicate.

As I matured, I recognized instances where, if I went out with my aunts, people (including distant relatives) would look at me and make comments about the gringa standing next to them.

I knew they were talking about me.

Though I couldn't speak Spanish fluently, I understood enough to know when someone was making comments about me. Even then I knew that something about my skin separated me from the rest of my family members.

But I never understood why.

With age, I noticed the same looks and murmurs continued to happen at family get-togethers and school events.

Second and third cousins who had never met me assumed I was a friend of the family at backyard bar-be-cues and quinceañeras. Until they met my father, of course. And when I went to a predominantly white, Catholic grammar school as a child, when my dad attended special events, people would rudely and openly ask my mom if my dad was my REAL dad or if he was my stepfather. It was too hard for them to believe that mixed marriages exist and that the result of a mixed marriage would obviously be a mixed child. Shocking.

Though I've come to a point where I've accepted the fact that I will perpetually be known as the güera of my family, I refuse to accept the dismissal that comes with this title.

I wish I could speak Spanish fluently. I wish I could say I've visited the homeland. I wish people didn't question my ethnicity so boldly and brazenly. But I can't change how people think.

Not all Latinas look the same, speak the same language, or come from the same background. And that's OKAY!

I love my family, my culture, and my identity.

That includes the way I look, the broken Spanish I sometimes speak, and my infatuation with traditional food. Despite the color of my skin, eyes, or hair, these things cannot erase the fact that I am half Mexican and want to be regarded as such.

I celebrate Nochebuena with my family and eat tamales verdes and mole like a champ. I can't wrap my head around soccer, but I'll cheer along while ranchera music plays loudly durante el verano en el patio trasero de mi tía y tío while someone's birthday celebration takes place. (Don't forget to shove their face in the cake!)

I shouldn't have to justify or prove my culture and heritage to those who question it, nor should anyone who comes from a mixed-race household. However, living in a society of inquirers, the sad fact is this: proving ourselves to everyone we meet is an exhausting task that we will never escape.

Cover Image Credit: Rebecca Reynoso

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5 Perks Of Having A Long-Distance Best Friend

The best kind of long-distance relationship.
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Sometimes, people get annoyed when girls refer to multiple people as their "best friend," but they don't understand. We have different types of best friends. There's the going out together best friend, the see each other everyday best friend and the constant, low maintenance best friend.

While I'm lucky enough to have two out of the three at the same school as me, my "low maintenance" best friend goes to college six hours from Baton Rouge.

This type of friend is special because no matter how long you go without talking or seeing each other, you're always insanely close. Even though I miss her daily, having a long-distance best friend has its perks. Here are just a few of them...

1. Getting to see each other is a special event.

Sometimes when you see someone all the time, you take that person and their friendship for granted. When you don't get to see one of your favorite people very often, the times when you're together are truly appreciated.

2. You always have someone to give unbiased advice.

This person knows you best, but they probably don't know the people you're telling them about, so they can give you better advice than anyone else.

3. You always have someone to text and FaceTime.

While there may be hundreds of miles between you, they're also just a phone call away. You know they'll always be there for you even when they can't physically be there.

4. You can plan fun trips to visit each other.

When you can visit each other, you get to meet the people you've heard so much about and experience all the places they love. You get to have your own college experience and, sometimes, theirs, too.

5. You know they will always be a part of your life.

If you can survive going to school in different states, you've both proven that your friendship will last forever. You both care enough to make time for the other in the midst of exams, social events, and homework.

The long-distance best friend is a forever friend. While I wish I could see mine more, I wouldn't trade her for anything.

Cover Image Credit: Just For Laughs-Chicago

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Lighter Skin Doesn't Automatically Make You More Beautiful, Colorism Is A Real Issue

No matter how dark or how light you are, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.

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South Asian communities are keen on the image of beauty having relation to being "fair and lovely." Eurocentric beauty standards and traditions have often led to a vast statistic of young brown teenage girls to feel insecure about the melanin they were born with. I've never unraveled this concept of relating paler skin with more beauty. Growing up, I've had the "privilege" of living beneath a light colored complexion, as relatives, family friends, and even strangers, have often glorified the color of my skin. I was introduced to a concept called "light-skinned privilege."

A dark-skinned girl would write about the adversity she faced as she tackles a society that shames her skin and worships European beauty features. She'd recount how she overcame this shallow mentality by learning to love and accept her dark skin. To provide an interesting twist, I am writing from the perspective on the other end of the spectrum, as a "light-skinned" brown girl, to acknowledge the fact that my skin gives me privilege in a society that has been internalizing colorist values for generations on end, and why this toxic mentality is harming brown communities.

In a metaphorical and comprehensible sense, it may be simple to compare "light skin privilege" to "white privilege," or colorism to racism. Both are systematic preferences for individuals who are of a superior trait, color, or race, giving those people societal advantages in regards to their possession of the ideal physical attractiveness standards. Colored men and women are systematically oppressed by colorist or racist means; sometimes, unfortunately, by both at the same time. But colorism, compared to racism, is an anomalous social issue that occurs every day, something I've recognized since I was nine years old.

It was nearly 100 degrees. The concrete of my backyard burned the soles of my feet and the air was laced with intensified humidity. But still, it's summer. No one stays in their house; folks practically lived in the outdoors. We cooked, conversed, slept, and ate right on our own property. The people of my culture spend every day living in the ambiance under the sun, so why is colorism such a normality?

It's because my people want to embrace their sun, but are pressured to hide in the shade. My nine-year-old charismatic self completely ignored this. I played freeze tag, rode my bike, and played games under the sun all day, until one day, my mom said to me:

"Melissa why you run in the sun all day? Your skin will turn black!"

She expects me to spend more time in the shade than in the sun. If I am in the sun, I must be fully clothed, even in 100-degree weather. Wearing a tank top and shorts while being in the sun is utterly scorned upon. It is dangerous, detrimental to my well-being, not because of the fact that I'm exposed to an excessive amount of harmful UV rays that can potentially cause skin cancer, but because my skin tone will become darker, and my "beauty will fade."

To avoid any misinterpretation of all this, I'm not whining about how "difficult" it is to have light skin. I'm not saying that those with light skin can be oppressed just as much as people with dark skin. Because they can't be. It's not the same. In reference to my racism analogy previously mentioned, saying people with light skin can also be oppressed in colorist communities is like saying white people can be oppressed in colored communities. This is completely false. The concept applies both ways; the same way minorities cannot systematically oppress white people is comparable to dark-skinned people not having the privilege and power in society to discriminate light skin people.

When a girl is shamed for her dark complexion, encouraged to bleach her skin, buys foundation a few shades lighter, invests in the popular "Fair & Lovely" skin cream, idolizes magazine cover models who are only of light skin complexion, learns that men in colorist communities prefer light-skinned women over dark skin, this is known as real, systematic oppression. This is a problem that is highly underrated.

However, there are no creams used to make a person of lighter complexion darker. No one is pressuring me to stay in the sun so I can be darker. What my mother had said to me was not systematically oppressive at all. It was said in a tone of admiration and caution, not a tone of distaste and discrimination.

I've read works addressing social injustices such as racism and police brutality, sexism, and homophobia, but can barely recall one that touched upon colorism. Today, I've used my "light skin privilege" as a platform to speak out against colorism and to raise awareness on the problematic cultural notions instilled in the minds of young girls in colored societies.

In other words, love your skin! Love the color of it, please. No matter how dark or how light you are. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it.

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