SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2015       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Claudia Rodriguez

My Dark Skin

photoBetween the year 2006 and 2007 “¡Si, se puede!” was all I ever heard whenever my mother or my father would turn on the T.V. and the local Spanish news Univision would come on.  Protestors rallied around state capitols urging for immigrants to stay and work in the U.S.  At the time I had little knowledge what they were protesting about, however they made it seem that white senators were to blame.  The moment I grasped the idea that I was different was when I moved to a new school from South Phoenix to Buckeye Arizona.  Up until the seventh grade I had rarely placed a considerable thought on my dark skin and black hair, let alone other individuals’ skin and hair color.  Nevertheless, my thoughts were soon altered when my parents had decided to relocate to a higher middle class neighborhood.  The end of the 2006 year was around the corner, and my family and I were eagerly packing to move from South Phoenix to Buckeye.  My parents bought a house that was completely new, no other family has ever lived there before.  The neighborhood is called “Windmill” and was fairly new to the city of Buckeye. I was beyond excited to begin the New Year at a new house, new neighborhood, new school, and make new friends.  Little did I know the life long memories I had anticipated would turn into a harsh reality check.

            Freedom Elementary School sounded like a really good school to be attending at the time.  I was expecting to see a diversity of students in the school; however, walking into my new classroom I noticed that diversity is what Freedom Elementary School lacked.  Being a new student in the middle of the year can be challenging due to the stress of trying to fit in and make friends.  To this day, the memory of my first day at school is still freshly engraved into my brain.  I stood inside my first class, which happened to be social studies, and felt every white student’s (which was most of the classroom) eyes glued to me.  At the time their stares looked as if I must be some kind of alien-like creature from the outer realms of space.  I awkwardly took my seat next to a girl that seemed like she could not keep her eyes off me.


In the middle of Mrs. Luevano’s lecture on the civil war about slavery, that I was trying so hard to understand, the door opened and a new girl walked through it.  Everyone stared at her as if she was an alien-like creature.  My new classmate looked quite familiar, so it was hard to take my eyes off of her as she uncomfortably moved across the room.  The new girl uneasily took her seat in the empty desk next to mine.  She caught me looking at her as I continued to wonder why she looked so familiar. That is when it hit me; we went to the same elementary school back when my family and I lived in South Phoenix.  Claudia’s dark Hispanic features did stand out in the classroom and even the whole 7th grade class.


 It took me a while to realize that that girl was actually, Estefania, an old classmate of mine from Desert Oasis Elementary when we lived in South Phoenix.  Her family had moved from Guadalajara, Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona, and then to Buckeye.  Estefania did not look like she was Mexican due to her light skin and hair, and hazel eyes, but what gave her ethnicity away was her semi thick accent when she spoke English.  I was fortunate enough to have her as a friend because she helped me go through insecurities I did not have before. 


It was difficult at first to get the new girl to recognize me. She thought I was one of “them”, since I blended in so easily here.  Slowly but surely we became friends because we realized we had things in common, for instances we both came from South Phoenix.  Transitioning from South Phoenix to Buckeye was not difficult for me. Many find it hard to believe that I am fully Mexican American, due to my light skin and light hair, therefore I was not stared down when I moved here to Buckeye.


There was so much irony in the word “Freedom”, which was the name of my new school.   Once I stood foot amongst the beautiful light skinned students at Freedom Elementary, my freedom of whom I was and proud to be was invisibly stripped away.  I did not know that I was slowly losing my pride of being a Mexican American.  The gratifying sensation of rolling my R’s was gone because I did not want an accent to discriminate between me and my fellow, non-rolling R’s classmates.  I wanted to smell like the sweet scent of vanilla that all the girls seemed to have naturally given to them, due to their light skin.  All my dark skin gave me was the smell of Downy Fresh Scent.  At my old school I enjoyed hearing the sound of recess time because that was the time when I could freely be myself and play outside.  But, at Freedom Elementary the sharp ring of the recess bell, was an indication that I had to hide away from the Arizona sun to avoid becoming darker than I already was.

            My insecurities slowly developed during the course of my remaining seventh grade year.  It felt like my classmates always knew the right things to say to make me feel like my ethnicity or skin color was a lack of confidence I had to overcome.  A Caucasian male classmate told me that I was ugly for being “too dark” and that there are many other “white beautiful girls” attending school.  Another male classmate told me that I should just go back to my country.  Funny thing is that I was born in the United States and lived in Arizona my whole life.  My classmates made me see a whole other perspective that I had not seen before I moved from South Phoenix.  I was led to believe that the color of my skin and the ethnicity I was born into means everything.  It means if I had been born with light skin, I would look less Mexican, which would make me more beautiful.  I felt as if I had been born as an alien with dark brown skin and dark black hair, therefore I was treated differently.  At twelve years old all I wanted was to be accepted by my peers, but the only way to do that was to change myself.  I could not change my ethnicity, but I could change my skin color.  In my attempt to get lighter skin, I avoided the sun and begged my mother to buy me a skin bleaching kit.  Being the good mother that she is, she did not comply with my begging.

Estefania turned out to be my best friend at Freedom Elementary School, and she was the most beautiful girl at school.  All the boys liked her for her fair skin, big hazel eyes, and her outgoing personality.  The only reason that boys liked me was to help them get closer to my friend, Estefania.  We were complete opposites.  I was born in the United States, and she was born in Mexico.  I was quiet and shy and she was extraverted and fun.  I had black hair, dark tan skin and dark brown eyes.  She had dark blonde hair, fair skin, and big hazel eyes.  I craved to have the same physical traits as Estefania did, since she was clearly praised more than I was. 


My classmates became used to having Claudia around but without realizing it themselves they were discriminating against her.  According to Claudia and my other classmates, we could have been almost mistaken for sisters if it were not for the color of our skin.  Claudia also believed that I was prettier than she because of my fair skin and I could tell this bothered Claudia because she began to avoid being in the sun for too long.  It took her up until the ending of high school to appreciate and accept who she is.


During high school I was on the soccer team for four years.  We had our practices under the hot rays of the Arizona sun.  A normal person would wear breathable shorts and a shirt.  I however, wore a long sleeve shirt under my soccer t-shirt, to make sure I would not get darker than I already was.  My teammates and coaches always thought I was foolish for doing such a thing.  Just so they would lay off my back, I told them I had to wear them because the sun irritated my skin.  The only thing that irritated me was being dark.

Before I moved schools, I had considered myself outgoing and confident.  It was easy for me to go up to a person and introduce myself.  It was easy for me to talk in front of my classmates.  It was easy for me to feel free in my skin, but that all changed.  It changed when my new classmates looked at me as if I were an alien.  It changed when no boy liked me, because I was “too dark”.  It changed when I began to notice the stares even out of school.  The experience I went through my 7th grade and 8th grade year in middle molded me into a shy girl who was self-conscious about her skin color.  That moment gave me a dose of reality I did not want a taste of, however it helped me shaped the person I am today.

Before writing this paper I thought I had overcome my self-doubt about my dark skin, however, I have come to recognize that I still have those insecurities of being “too dark”.  I have noticed that I still avoid the sun at all costs by staying indoors as much as possible.  Once I graduated from high school I have dyed my hair to blonde in order to look lighter.  I now have an accent when I speak Spanish because I have neglected speaking it for so long.  I am tired of hiding who I truly am; today is the day I soak my bare feet back into their roots.

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