On legitimacy and “brown-ness”: Post-Hispanic Heritage Month and (establishing) identity

Part 3: Caramel colored skin

My brownest child turns 11 today and I’m feeling joy at watching her grow and sadness at seeing the last vestiges of babyhood leave her body. No longer a thick thighed baby, she is tall and lean with long fingers and big feet.

My baby,

You came into the world quickly and with coraje. The first hours after your birth, your name sat in the middle of my chest, goddesses, a saint and the moon. A talisman to protect you from the world and to guide your rage. Your powerful name helped define you and your first weeks, spent small and hungry, constantly demanding to be fed and to be held in my arms to make up for your early exit.

From my family, you inherited the kind of skin that just grows browner in the sun, dark hair that resists your desired bright blues and reds, and a single grey hair. You inherited my temper, my foul mouth and my joy for testing boundaries. You are kind and unapologetically yourself, social and self assured in a way that reminds me that you are not all mine as much as I want to keep you wrapped up like a burrito. I know you’re always listening and learning… like a bunny with your orejas paradas. Just like me.

You were in kindergarten the first time you told me that someone made fun of your skin. They told you that you were garbage, that Mexicans were garbage, that the Spanish language was garbage. You told me this and I died inside.

“What did you say?” I remember asking you calmly.

“I told him that I am the color of caramel and caramel is delicious.”

I sobbed privately and reached out to your first year teacher who was not quite sure what to do next. The child “didn’t mean it,” the mother was the class mom. You remained unfazed. You knew he was wrong.

Your strong sense of self and your identity is one way that you’ll get through, not only where attacks against you are sharp and obvious, but through microaggressions and a world that wasn’t designed for your success.

We’re doing our best to help you create your own future by growing you to love art and music, books and learning, by intentionally exposing you to the accomplishments of icons and authors, scientists and historians. Frida and Lola and Yuyi and Ester. European fairy tales and Indigenous mythology. Our family history, how we got here, how our privileges are not granted but earned one tiny fragment at a time. How our fights are on the right side of history: our right to vote, to speak loudly and be heard, to be part of a taught history, our right to live in this country.

The big stuff like that matters but the small stuff matters too: your grandparents green thumbs, your vague awareness of the chancla and it’s awesome and terrifying power, and how to make a good pot of pinto beans. The way that we celebrate holidays and birthdays, how we stick together, how we love each other and how we tease each other too. The game we play where we compare our arms and declare you the winner of the contest where the prize is being as dark as your Tata, your grandfather. That game that honors your caramel colored skin as beautiful and perfect.

I love you and I’m proud of you. You will always be my cutie burrito baby.