The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to be around other Hispanic families, but like most cities, my hometown was predominantly white. As far back as elementary school, I can remember wondering why I didn’t look like other girls. I so desperately wanted green or blue eyes and blonde hair instead of black. I didn’t even like the fact that my skin was darker too. Why do I have to be so tan when the other girls are fair and light? So many things seemed unfair.
As I grew older, like most children, my skin did turn lighter. I was nowhere near as dark as I used to be once I reached middle school, but something that always stuck with me was the dark circles around my eyes. I was born with eye bags, and as my skin got lighter, my bags became more noticeable. This was around the time that I started experimenting with makeup (mostly stolen from my mother), and by the time I was 14, I wouldn’t be caught dead without makeup on. If someone saw me without it, I would immediately be bombarded with “Are you tired? You look sick. Are you okay”? I didn’t have the energy to explain that ethnic skin is more prone to hyperpigmentation around the eyes, and honestly, I shouldn’t have to. To this day, this is still one of my biggest insecurities and I constantly find myself comparing myself to other girls that have light under eyes.
If you’re Hispanic, you may have noticed that we tend to grow darker, more coarse hair on our bodies than the average person. Well as a woman, society has always told me that that’s unacceptable. I remember being asked why my arms were so hairy, a question that persisted all the way until middle school when I was old enough to shave — one of the many reasons I wished I had been born white with light, blonde hair.
My arms weren’t the only place that grew hair though. I always had thick eyebrows and even grew a lot of dark facial hair on my upper lip. This resulted in a lot of mean comments from my classmates, like the much dreaded question, “are you a boy or a girl”? It didn’t make sense to me because I felt as feminine as any other girl. I played with baby dolls, made bracelets and necklaces, and my favorite color was pink and purple. Wasn’t it obvious? I was taunted for a while until I finally convinced my mom in the fifth grade to Nair my mustache off — one of the most relieving days of my life. Now it’s a constant chore to make sure I shave every inch of my body, especially my arms and upper lip.
No more curls
I was gifted with curly hair, but it always felt like a curse to me. I wanted straight hair like the other girls and forced my mom to straighten it whenever she could. I automatically felt prettier and like I finally belonged, but by the time curly hair had become popular, mine was dead and fried. It took a lot of chopping and training to get my hair back to its natural state. I still struggle with accepting it for what it is.
The native language
As a single mother, my mom had to work to support us and left my brother and me in the care of my grandparents. I like to say my grandmother raised me because she was such a big part of my life. Like a lot of Puerto Rican grandmothers though, she mostly spoke Spanish. I picked up on a lot and spoke what we call Spanglish, a mixture of English and Spanish. I didn’t know certain words in English when I went to school, and even though the majority of my vocabulary was English, I still struggled to get my point across to non-Hispanic people. I can only imagine how hard it was for native Spanish speakers.
As I got older and my grandparents moved back to Puerto Rico, I was less and less exposed to Spanish. I am now one of the few Puerto Ricans in my family that does not speak or understand Spanish, something I deeply regret. I’m considered less Hispanic, or white-washed, for not knowing and I feel the need to prove myself in other ways. I went from wishing I was white, to trying to look as Hispanic as I possibly could. I want people to know I’m Puerto Rican because I’m proud of my culture and my heritage. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize.
“I want people to know I’m Puerto Rican because I’m proud of my culture and my heritage. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize.”
Close to my roots
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. Being Hispanic means having a huge family and being close to one another. It means coming together to make and share good food. It means flying to the home every year and growing closer to your roots. I was lucky to have a mother who cared so much about our origin that she let my brother and I spend months in Puerto Rico at a time. Every summer, I lived with my grandmother up in the mountains of Rincon and ate the Pasteles she made straight from the banana tree that grew in our backyard. Even though I wasn’t born there, I still consider it home. I wouldn’t change a single thing about my past, and I feel so grateful to have experienced life as a Boricua.