I was raised in a Spanish speaking household. Where my traditions and culture was different from that of our neighbor’s. At a very young age, I was made aware that my skin, my name, and the way I spoke was not “normal.” I would question why it was a big deal? At the same time, I would think of ways I could change myself to become more acceptable to the people around me.
When I started preschool, the only English words I knew were "hi" and "bye." It was not until about first or second grade that I began to understand the English language and was able to communicate fully to people. I remember going home some days from school and asking my parents how to say certain words in English so I could communicate to my teacher. I remember that kids did not want to be friends with the little girl who had a weird name that they couldn't understand. As a result of this, the older I got, the more I changed myself to be like everyone around me.
Every first day of school I had, the teacher would always get stuck on my name. So when I knew my name was coming I would say “My name is Valerie, but Val is fine.” This way it would become something “normal” that everyone could pronounce. Looking back now, I can honestly say I was embarrassed about my name. I wanted to just fit in. I wanted friends like everyone else had. The older I got, I never found my spot within the groups. I distinctly remember the day a girl told me, “You think you’re a white girl trying to act like a black girl.”
Those words have never left my mind. They are like a scar on my brain that I look back on from time to time. When she said those words to me I was stunned. I just thought to myself “No? I know I am Hispanic. I know my skin is tan.”
I was left in a state of confusion. Although after I settled down and took some time to think about it, that is when I said to myself never again. I still may have those memories, but today I am a different girl.
Today, I am proud of my tan skin. I am proud of my beautiful name. I am proud that I can speak, read and write both languages fluently. I am proud that my parents came from another country. I am proud to be born in the United States with El Salvadorean blood pumping through my veins. Today, I will never let racism change me or make me into something I am not.