Maybe I Like it This Way

“Dang, You’re so tan! You should really stay out of the sun,” commented one of the softball players in the locker room.
“Woah, you’re getting really black,” mentioned my good friend as we stood and talked in the morning.
“Your skin is really dark,” noted the athletic trainer.
I know.
I know that I am tan. I am fully aware that in the sea of porcelain-skinned individuals that is suburban Arizona, I stand out. It’s not anything new that my skin is darker than the majority of my peers. Living in a predominately white area of town, where most of my friends have blonde hair and blue or green eyes, I’ve gotten used to the notion. I’ve gotten used to the comments, the questions regarding whether or not this is my “real” skin tone, and friends not wanting to stand beside me in photographs for fear that I make them look “pale”. I have become accustomed to spending upwards of thirty minutes attempting to find a makeup shade that matches my skin tone because most companies don’t manufacture a color close enough to my abnormal dark brown hue, while my friends can be in and out of the store in ten minutes, tops.
I used to hate looking and being Mexican, especially in a part of town that is primarily Caucasian. I never felt a sense of “belonging,” I have always been in the minority, and I had always felt inferior. In the past, I longed for nothing more than to conform. I’ve never had an issue making friends; the primary source of my lack of confidence came from what stared back at me in the mirror every morning, and the implications that came with it. Everywhere I looked, it seemed as if I was being stared at, looked down upon, and judged.
I refused my parents’ early offer to throw me a quinceañera, one of the most important celebrations in Mexican culture, because I did not want to bring attention to my race. I instructed my mother to never pack me anything other than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my lunchbox, for fear of getting teased if I brought quesadillas or frijoles. I would purposely cover my body with a towel at the pool while my friends were laying out because I did not want to get any more tan than I already was. Being Mexican dominated my life in a negative way.
It was not until my freshman year of high school, after I relocated from Richmond, Virginia to Phoenix, Arizona, that I began to truly enjoy and form an appreciation for my culture. Being closer to the U.S. — Mexico border meant that I now had people, although few in my community, who could relate to my Mexican upbringing and give me a different perspective on what it truly meant to be a Mexican-American. As I’ve become more analytical with age, I see how important it is to embrace my race rather than mask it. The traditions — tamales on Christmas, piñatas at birthday parties, celebrating el Dia de los Reyes Magos, etc., are what made up my childhood and molded me into the strong-willed, motivated young woman I am today. The hard-working, inclusive nature of the people of Mexico is evident in the way I go about everyday life, and I would not have it any other way. 
I’ve been called “anchor baby,” “wetback,” and “beaner” countless times, without any real reason. I’ve been told to “hop back over the border,” even though I was born in the United States. Every time I am asked what I want to be when I grow up, my answer is intercepted by landscaping or housekeeping jokes. My mother has been attacked, yelled at, and spat upon for being Mexican, but I don’t let any of this discourage me. Being Mexican does not make me inferior, it makes me stronger. I have developed a thick skin from being a female second-generation Mexican immigrant in a white man’s world. I understand that there are people out there that may advocate for my failure, but use that fact as motivation to push through the name calling and disapproving glares and become the successful leader and innovator I have always known I had the potential to be. 
I regard it as my duty in this world to succeed in whatever I pursue, so that I may serve as a model and source of motivation to others. I will not be a statistic — I will not add to the the 85% of Hispanics who fail to obtain a bachelor’s degree, instead I will defy the odds by doing that and more. I have chosen to stand upon the shoulders of the Mexican-Americans who have come before me and continue to advocate for the political and social freedom and equality of all, like César Chavez and Lupe Anguiano, some of the most noteworthy civil rights activists of all time, who just so happen to be Mexican-Americans.
Being Mexican is and always will be a part of my identity. I will never let a border, derogatory terms, or discouraging statistic get in the way of my Mexican-American pride or determination to succeed. ​

Cada cual hace con su vida un papalote y lo echa a volar — 
We each make a kite of life and fly it as we will — (Mexican Proverb)

Originally published on LinkedIn:

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