I have some thoughts sitting on my mind and I need to expel them.
Most people don't know my personal fight with my identity. Apart from my best friend, I don't think I've ever really spoken on it. I have, in the past, talked on my identity as it stands today, but I don't think I've ever really talked about how I got there.
Today is that day.
Where to start? 🤔
It's tough—even if I were to start from the beginning—because of the convoluted nature of the circumstance.
I remember that as a tiny tot, race, creed, color weren't things that mattered to me. Although, most of my aunts, uncles and adult family members called me "negra", I never really gave it any thought. It was, at that time, after all, just a nickname. And so I considered it, responding with no reproach. Little did I know then how that seemingly innocent nickname was just the beginning of the preordained path that had already been paved for me.
It all started when I was at an age where I could somewhat comprehend human behaviors. I was perhaps about 4 or 5-years-old. The first compliment I ever remember getting was from my godfather whom has since passed away. He said in Spanish, and I quote, "She so pretty for a black girl." to which my mother replied, "Well, she's not really black, she's Puerto Rican."
The conversation went on to become a humorous exchange.
Godfather: Well, her father is black, so she's black.
Mom: He might be a dark skinned Puerto Rican, but he's not black either.
Godfather: Dark skinned equals black.
Mom: Don't you ever dare say that to his face. He won't like it.
And so it went.
I didn't get it. What the hell was happening here? Why this big debate about whether or not I was black? I mean, everyone in my family was a different color. Some were pink, some yellow, some light brown, others dark brown, some were even kinda blotchy or two-toned.
Why did I have to be "pretty for a black girl"? Why couldn't I just be pretty? Why did any of this matter? I mean, I have one light pink grandmother and one dark brown grandmother—same thing applied to my grandfathers. My mom was medium brown with really straight and soft hair. My dad was dark brown like his parents with fluffy, stiff hair. Everyone was different! So, what was the big deal? 🤷
Furthermore, it seemed like every time a new baby was introduced into the family, the light pink ones were celebrated, whereas the dark brown ones weren't celebrated as much.
These types of debates went of forever.
At the time, I took these things with a grain of salt because I didn't understand the depth of it all.
When I was of school age the subject of skin color seemed to grow. I remember with crystal clarity things like not being accepted by the African-American crowd because I was too light. But, also being rebuffed by the Hispanic crowd because I was too black. The African-American girls would purposely pull my hair saying that "I thought I was better because I had 'good' hair". Whereas, the Hispanic girls would say that "I had nigga hair."
Suffice it to say that I quickly learned the difference between Black, Hispanic, Caucasian, Middle Eastern and Asian.
It was all so confusing, but since I didn't know any better I accepted the divisions as gospel. Ironically enough, the only crowd that accepted me without prejudice was the smallest of minorities—the Indian and Middle-Eastern crowd.
In 3rd, 4th and 5th grades I had a good friend named Sahar who was Iraqi. Sahar would tell me, "You look like my cousin. You have the same skin color, nose and eyes." And, I didn't really find it strange because there were people of all colors, shapes and sizes in my family.
This struggle with identity didn't just exist in school, as a matter of fact it was prominent at home.
My mother, who was a mixture of Taina and European would gleefully boast about her white father. My father, who was black on both ends, was get insulted when someone called him black. It was the biggest of insults, apparently. "I am Puerto Rican!" he would retort full of angst.
Later on in life, when I became an active member of my local Hispanic Church, the obvious bigotry was a daily occurrence. There was always comments regarding the supremacy of the lighter skinned Hispanics, and the inferiority of the darker skinned individuals, although the church was full of Hispanics of all skin colors and Latino nationalities.
When I was old enough to date, I dated a guy who shared my mother's features; medium brown, with soft hair. His family members made it a point to always tell me that before me all his girlfriends were white so I should feel lucky that he was with me.
Slowly but surely my self-esteem plummeted, making me feel like less than anyone because I was too light to be black—but then again, I WASN'T black as per my father—and too dark to be white. Some of the church members would tease me about my "big nose" and "kinky hair". They would tell me that my butt was big because I was black and that was the only "nice" feature about me. At times, when they were feeling generous, I was told that "I was pretty for a black girl". And so it went.
By the time I turned 16 I had absolutely no self-esteem whatsoever. Because, over all things I knew that the only person that accepted me as I was, was God. But, other than that, I was black which meant not pretty and less than.
When I got married, my ex-husband who was an abusive asshole made it a point of telling me, almost daily, that I was "fat, black and ugly" and that I would never do any better than him. Hence, I should be lucky that he's with me because I would otherwise be single. When my two youngest children were born and they happened to be light skinned like their father, my mother boasted—her chest inflated with pride—about her white grandchildren. After a while, just like my father, I started to resent being called black. I would snap back at people saying, "I'm Puerto Rican not black."
Until one day ...
One day I decided to educate myself. And so began my journey to self-acceptance. In a series of several years I researched my ancestry. And wouldn't you know it ... I was indeed black. Or at least partially black by genetics, but half black by appearance and heredity. As a matter of fact, I was more black than I was white or indigenous Taino. When I learned this, I began to research the famous black Puerto Ricans as well as the famous black Americans, seeing as how I was both Puerto Rican and American.
It was then that my self-esteem began to change and grow. I knew one thing—the most important thing—I wanted to carry forward the path they started. I wanted to be one of the very few Correas that contributed something beautiful to our legacy.
At the end of a very long journey, I learned, accepted and understood that I AM BLACK, and I am not "pretty for a black girl" but BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE OF MY RICH BLACK HERITAGE.