Wait, I’m Hispanic?
Realizing you’re different in a disapproving world.
I always knew I was born in Chile, but as a young and innocent child, I didn’t understand the concept of race. I didn’t fully comprehend that I was different. So while I always knew I was born somewhere else, I didn’t really know I was Hispanic.
The first time I realized I was Hispanic was in third grade. The class was going through the vocabulary list for that week and we came to the word “alien”. I looked at it and figured it meant UFO’s and space creatures. So naturally I was confused when my teacher pointed at me and said, “Sofia can be considered an alien.” I looked at her, confused for a moment, before stating, “No I’m not.” I mean, how could this grown woman not see that I was clearly not a gangly, green creature with beady eyes? I was a human child. But she insisted, “Yes you are. You’re an alien because you’re not from here. You’re from Chile.” She said it so confidently that I didn’t know how to respond. I was still from this planet, wasn’t I? I was still human, right? I knew that, so why didn’t the rest of the class? What if didn’t know is that this would only be the first encounter of such rude awakenings.
Over the years, I would go through many instances that suddenly snapped me back into the realization that I was different. And while I’m only half Chilean and only lived there for the first few months of my life, it’s still enough for people to think of me and family as different. My sister and mother, I know, get the worst of it because their skin is darker. I always considered myself lucky for that.
So I spent most of my teenage years avoiding the feeling of humiliation that came with being “alien”. There was an instance in middle school when a teacher began to call me “Chilean” instead of using my real name. But it was quickly ended by reporting him. So other than that, I felt safe. And with my skin being lighter than my sister’s, I felt fitted among my peers. I thought no one was the wiser. But on my senior trip, I had the biggest awakening since that day in third grade.
It started simply with a game. One friend went around the campfire circle and made up a lie that directly contradicted or exaggerated the personality of the person. For example: one friend was a good computer coder, so his lie was that he was the famous Anonymous. Another friend was a ride or die fan of the Utah Utes, so his lie was that he was secretly a BYU (the Utes’ rival team) fan. All was well and dandy until it came to me. And my lie was (drumroll) “You’re not Chilean! You’re a white girl who has a bad spray tan and wants attention!” My heart broke. And while that comment might seem bad, the worst part was when everyone in the circle started laughing.
I tried explaining it was offensive. “Oh no it’s not.” I tried explaining it made me uncomfortable. “It’s just a joke.” I desperately tried to convince the group, and myself, that I was much paler than most Chileans. That I’m white passing. That I’m not different. “Do you want to compare our skin right now?” No. I didn’t.
My reality was shattered. Everything I had thought about no one noticing any “alien”-ish part of me was a fantasy. That night, I wrote a quick monologue in my notes. “I have so many interesting things about me...so why is it that, when it comes down to it, all I am is my racial identity?” For weeks, I would wake up and see my hands, my arms, and I would note how they were darker than I had thought. I looked in the mirror, at my face and eyes and hair, and noted that they were not like my friends’. I cried to my mother about how all I wanted was to look more like my friends, which made her cry with me. And for a while, all I knew was a hatred and a dysphoria for how I looked and for what set me apart. And I would wish that on no one.
It’s been several months since then. I’ve distanced myself from many of the people who refused to believe that what they said was hurtful. I hope they grow to know more someday, but I personally do not have the strength nor patience to teach them. I’ve replaced crying with my mother to sitting down with her and learning more about my heritage and embracing the beautiful culture I’ve been blessed to know and have. And while I still wake up and notice my skin’s hues, I’m glad to report that I happily smile at it and think about how amazing it is. How my color, though paler than others, has been passed down to me from my mom, my grandparents and great grandparents, generations of strong human beings who I can respect and look up to. And I’m working hard to show them that I love them by loving myself. It’s still a bumpy road. It’s difficult to rewire an entire mindset. But I’m rebuilding and growing. And I’m proud of this beautiful mixed skin of mine.
Also, who cares if I’m an alien. Aliens are cool.