Brown and Proud
It was 1975 in Surprise, Arizona, a small town just outside of Phoenix, and I was in the second grade. We had just finished playing indoors and it was time to clean up. I remember Mrs. Smith saying, “everyone needs to line up outside against the wall so we can go to lunch.” As I was standing outside waiting for the other children and Mrs. Smith, Diana, a brown haired, freckled fair skin girl came and stood next to me. As Mrs. Smith came out, Diana asked Mrs. Smith if she could help tie her shoe lace. As Mrs. Smith worked on Diana’s shoe lace, Diana began to speak with Mrs. Smith. The strange thing about this memory was that I could only recall one part of their conversation, and that was what Diana told Mrs. Smith about Mexicans. “Mrs. Smith, I know why Mexicans are brown,” said Diana, “because they never take baths.” I couldn’t understand why Diana would say such a thing. I was puzzled and confused, I take baths everyday and I’m Mexican.
I don’t recall going home that evening and asking my parents if what I heard that day was true, but it definitely was something I could never forget. You see, I never noticed my skin color, “brown”, or anyone else’s skin color before. To me, people were people, but this statement that I heard, coming from Diana, made me start to see people differently and to see myself differently. I now associated my skin color with dirt and I didn’t want to be this color, I wanted to be like Diana, “white.” I didn’t want people to think that I was dirty because my skin color was
Throughout my elementary and high school years, I noticed that the pretty and popular girls were light skinned, even though they were Mexican, they didn’t look “dark” like me. The people on T.V., in magazines, and every professional person I encountered had light skin. I could not associate my skin color with any person that fascinated me or anyone that I could say, “I can be just like them, they have the same color of skin as I do.” I can even recall relatives telling me that they were pretty and I was ugly because I was “dark.” Outside of my parents, no one ever told me that being “brown” was not a bad thing or that it didn’t matter what color a person was.
It wasn’t until I went to college that my views of how I say myself all changed. I met other students from all parts of this world, students who looked like me or were even darker, and I saw how proud they were of their skin color and of who they were. They were beautiful, smart, and admired by others. It was also there, at college, when a friend told me that she loved my skin color and how beautiful it was. She told me how she would lay out in the sun to get tanned and all she would get is burned. It’s funny, but hearing this person tell me something totally opposite of what I had heard ten years earlier, about the color of my skin, made me realize how blind I had been.
I will never be able to ask Diana why she made such a comment, or even know how she came up with her idea/theory of brown skin, but I do know that it was very meaningful to me. You know, I sometimes wonder if she associated the color “brown” with dirt, or she overheard someone make a derogatory comments about Mexicans. Throughout my school years, I always saw my skin color as a negative thing, but I now understand the beauty of color. I am once again seeing people, and myself, for who we are and not for our skin color. I can say that the memory of Diana, and her comment about the color of Mexicans, will always be with me, but it won’t be as meaningful as it was when I was growing up.
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