The Divide I Represent
I am an elementary school teacher at one of the more “affluent” districts in the Bronx. I was invited by the district to attend an informative tenure meeting.
Of course I went because I never decline an opportunity that will give me insight in my career.
On our way to the meeting my coworker and I were yapping our lives away about normal teacher frustrations. Upon arrival, I noticed a long line before the start of the event. As we waited on line my eyes floated around the hallways observing and admiring the colorful signs and student artwork. As we approached the beginning of the line I noticed three people walk out of the auditorium. The 3 of them give me this look that made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t detect what their dirty looks meant but that uncomfortable feeling was familiar to me. I didn’t pay it attention and turnt my head in another direction. Another pair of women walk by and give me the same look. I look at my coworker in hopes that just by looking at each other I’d know “it’s just not me.” I looked at her and she seems unbothered as I was 10 seconds ago. I start to look around and still couldn’t make sense of it. I looked at myself for a moment to see if maybe my fly was open or something. Nope. Nada. I finally sign in and was happily greeted by this older white lady. When I open the doors of the auditorium…. that’s when I realize it. I thought to myself “NO FREAKING WONDER!”
I know where this familiar feeling is coming from. A flood of flashbacks pours through my mind. As I walk to my seat I start to scan the entire room. Right in that moment, I started to have a conversation with myself: “There’s about 125 people here….. Let’s see how many people are of ‘color’. Wait let’s see the range of color in this room. Asian, African American and Latinos. Damn that’s a large range. Ok let’s count. About 25” 25 people. 25 people of color. ¡Por eso fue! I got those dirty looks. The majority is white. I begin to question myself as to why it took me so long to realize what those dirty looks meant if I know this feeling all too well. For the last 3 years I’ve been around the same people. Everyone I interact at work, at home or in the neighborhood…. either looks like me or has gotten used to seeing me. It’s probably been 5 years since I last experienced this. I look at my coworker and that’s when I remember she is also white and that’s why it didn’t faze her.
Immediately I want to vent. “I will write a Facebook Post about this!” But then I think about all those Afro-Latinas replying to my post commenting “you are light skinned, you have privilege.” I get angrier. The angry black girl inside of me wanted to cry. I forgotten how angry this all makes me feel. For as long as I can remember society has been putting labels on me without my consent! I was probably 17 when I realized this and was totally infuriated by the fact. I have been and I still am angry. But at this point in my life I'm just like “que se vayan a la M!” For the most part I’ve learned that it’s up to me to accept the fact that I am the only person who can define who I am. Navigating through these labels has been the most frustrating thing to do because we are all walking contradictions.
I’m American born, 1st generation, Latina, Light Skinned “ y con los ojos claros y el pelo bueno.” I am excluded from my fellow Latinas because I am light skinned and “Los mericanos” exclude me from their label because well… I have a “Spanish” accent. I’m neither “White” nor “Black” nor “Brown”. My fellow people of color think I have some privilege in this world. I accept the fact that our skin color gives or takes away privilege in America but I don’t accept the fact that it has given me privilege. I might be able to get the job because I look “Americana” but its nothing compared to feeling I get when someone mocks my accent or has a “hard time understanding” what I said. I don’t think it has given me any privilege because the way words come out of my mouth give me away…. my words in English have a Spanish accent and my words in Spanish have an “American” accent. Latinos tend to like or hate me because I am lighter. I get the “Mira que bonita” or “Parece Americana” which either one can be said as a compliment or a diss.
That day (at the district meeting), I was reminded of the divide I represent. On the outside I am a petite light skinned Latina with beautiful soft curls and hazel-green eyes. On the inside, I am an angry brown central American. Because I am a mix of white, African, Asian and my indigenous Mayan roots. My identity is the divide. The same divide that 21 nations represent (thanks to our European conquers).
P.S. Querido Latinos,
Estamos divididos y no unidos.