GROWING UP BROWN IN A WHITE WORLD
Written by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez
Being brown has a particular set of experiences that people that are brown can fully understand.
I realized I am brown at a very early age. I was born in Nicaragua where, while not everyone has brown pigmented skin, a lot of us do so I never truly felt odd or out of place. I was also very aware of the fact that in every classroom I was in, the lighter skinned girls always received the highest of praise. But again, I was significantly younger and these are the initial lessons of colorism that all non-white kids experience.
Then we migrated to Miami. If you understand Miami, you understand that it is known as the capital of Latin America. Everyone is Latinx, and we do not spend much time arguing that fact. Because of the neighborhood we moved into, I found myself enrolled in a school where a lot light skin Latinxs lived, usually of Cuban descent, and I suddenly became one of the darkest students in most of my classrooms.
The lesson that was subtly taught about my brown skin prior to being in primarily white passing Latinx spaces became more overt as I grew older. I remember knowing that Lucero was considered beautiful, Xuxa was a princess, Marimar was a doll, Gloria Trevi was irresistible, Maria Teresa on Telemundo was brilliant, Jimena, the light skinned, blonde, blue eyed girl on Carrusel de Las Americas was the “pretty” one, and not one of these people looked like me. They had the lightest of skin tones, light hair, and some even had light eyes. Their noses were trim and small, like many of their features. It was all cute and desirable, we were meant to desire them. And I did not see myself reflected in any of these people. I remember the maids in my favorite telenovelas looked more like me, La India Maria looked more like me, and through all this I was sent very clear visuals about what I should want to be and love.
From left to right: Lucero, Xuxa, Thalia (who played Marimar, Gloria Trevi, and Ludwika Paleta as Jimena in Carrusel De Las Americas (these photos do not belong to Offtharecord)
Being brown has a particular set of experiences that only people who are brown can fully understand. I remember by seventh grade I already knew and had been taught very viciously that whiteness is best. I had acquired the interest of a boy named Jonathan Arroyo. He was Colombian and as far as I was concerned the most beautiful boy I had ever seen. He was my first kiss, and while those memories are supposed to be good ones, the only memory I have is of the time that he introduced me to his friend group. It was before classes started, early in the morning; he walked me over to meet his friends, and his entire friend group consisted of light skin Latinxs or Latinxs who had bought into European/white standards of categorizing ourselves. They all looked at me up and down and began to crack up right in front of my face, and one of them said: “she looks like an indian,” with disgust written all over her face.
Seeing yourself not represented anywhere, and understanding that many of the white passing Latinxs I knew worshiped at the feet of whiteness all while waving their country of origins national flag – meant that I learned quick lessons about the color of my skin. When I say that I am brown, I refer to these experiences. When I say that white passing Latinxs need to check their whiteness and the advantages that socially they’ve received because they pass as our colonizers means that the experiences we have had are different precisely because we live in a racist society that places value on whiteness and proximity to it.
When I say that I am brown, I am referring to the color of my skin. It is a beautiful shade of caramel, it is a distant memory of my indigenous ancestors, and it is a skin that I’ve had to learn to love. When I say that I am brown, I am claiming me to myself and reminding myself of all those times I thought something was wrong with me but all along something was wrong with them. When I say that I am brown, I am referring to these experiences and a slew of other experiences that marked me, made me keep my head low for a long time, made me apologize, was the reason I wore colored contacts for years in high school, and the list goes on and and on and on. When I say that I am brown, I am not using a metaphor, I am standing in the pain and disowning it.