Growing up, I knew I had a darker skin tone. I used to get called “Choco” or “Coco” in reference to my chocolate-like complexion. I was made very aware of how big my nose was, along with how big my lips were in comparison to everyone else’s. It was also very apparent that my hair was not like everyone else’s. I had unruly curls that took ages to contain, while everyone else had long, flowing hair that was easy to manage. I never knew, however, that because of these features, I would be deemed as “not Latina enough”.
I never understood why my physical attributes were equated to my ethnicity. Although I am not African-American, everyone saw me as such. Anytime I tried to explain my ethnicity, it was quickly disregarded because “You can’t be black and Hispanic. You’re either one or the other.” So, throughout elementary school and middle school, I chose to be black. I was told I had the features of an African-American, so why not? What’s the harm in being what people told me I was even when I knew they were wrong?
The harm? I grew a strong hatred for not only being Latina but being a dark-skinned Latina. I was convinced that if it weren’t for my hair or my nose or lips, but more importantly my skin, I would be just as Latinx as all my other friends. We shared the same culture, yet I was deemed as being “different” for not looking like everyone else.
It irked me that my ethnicity was completely erased, but mainly because I allowed it to be for so long. I did not fight for who I was, and now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it was all due to the colorism that exists in the Latinx community.
Colorism is alive and thriving within the Latinx community. Due to colorism, lighter-skinned Latinxs are seen as superior to those of us who have a darker skin tone. There is even a saying, “mejorar la raza” or “improve the race” which implies that if you have dark skin, you should marry someone lighter than you in order for your kids to be lighter, therefore bettering the race. Dark-skinned latinxs are fed this line for as long as we can remember because it is a constant reminder that we are not seen as beautiful by our own people. We, darker-skinned Latinxs, grow up watching novelas with our abuelitas and the only time we see ourselves on the screen is if we are a maid to the much fairer skinned protagonist. We are raised to believe that we must ignore our afro and/or indigenous roots because it is where we get our color from.
Now that I am older, I have come to terms with who I am. I am a proud Afro-Latina and I am not afraid to let the world know. However, colorism within the Latinx community is something that needs to be addressed and talked about. Raising our children with this mentality that they have to be fair or light-skinned is wrong and unacceptable. Colorism needs to come to an end, not only in the Latinx community but in all communities with people of color throughout the world. Do not let anyone tell you that you are not your ethnicity based on something as trivial as your skin tone. You are your ethnicity, through and through. Embrace it and yourself.