The other day, Pepe (my oldest) came home from a field trip and started a pretty interesting conversation:
Pepe: Mami, I’m brown.
Me: That’s right Pepe, Isn’t that great? (with a super exciting face to show him no sorrow nor shame)
Pepe: Yeah Mami, but I’m brown
Me: And that’s the best color one could have. I’m brown too and I totally love it.
Pepe: (looking at me intensely and searching for politically correct words) hmm, I kind of wish I was white like Papi
Me: Seriously? A bunch of people pay to be our color. They even get burned in the sun
Pepe: It’s okay, I promise that if I can change my color today, I’ll never change my mind again
Me: A garden has many colors and it’s beauty comes from that variety of colors. The same with a rainbow. Plus imagine how boring the world would be if everyone had the same color?
Pepe: Yes I know. But I’m brown (with a sad face)
Feeling pretty frustrated about the conversation I just decided to let it go. I realized that no matter how many times I tried to explain it, nothing was going to make him feel any better. Pepe was hurt. A kid in his class decided to make fun of the fact that he was brown and other kids laughed at the joke. There I was! The proudest Latina you can ever think of, having to deal with racism with her 9 y/o son. I never experienced racism as a kid because we were all Latinos in Washington Heights. By the time I started working at Columbia University where I had my first racist experiences (everyone thought I was the cleaning lady no matter how fancy I tried to look, LOL), I was in my early twenties, already a revolucionaria with tougher skin and ready to face these kinds of challenges.
We live in a 99.90% white neighborhood where the only diversity consists of “affluent minorities” so as you can imagine, not many Latinos in that group. Maybe it is my fault for always wanting to push into spaces where we don’t belong. Or it’s Pepe’s fault–a smart kid who is fluent in three languages but isn’t able to find something on the other kid’s features to pick on. (You bet I trained him well on that. Pepe will squish him like a bug next time it happens). Or maybe it’s the fault of a teacher, a bus driver, a parent, an adult that lets this kind of behavior go unpunished so the vicious cycle just continues…