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My mother with a silk scarf wrapped around her head scoffed at my long braids.
I know what is best for my hair. It’s all trial and error. Hairspray doesn’t work, but moose does. Washing my hair every day will have me looking like Don King. I am aiming for Diana Ross. No, I do not have “pelo bueno,” and neither do you, so will you please get me some Shampoo that costs more than $2.99 and a few oils?
Conversations about color and hair are constant in the Hispanic community. Hispanics reference European features to describe nearly anything cute, clean, and classy. I didn’t get it. She wanted so badly to force me into something I wasn’t. Something she wasn’t. I always wondered why I was the only one left cringing. Her words would slice me. They were always unsettling. I didn’t understand why I was so deeply offended and no one else as much as batted an eye. I was quickly pegged as sensitive. I didn’t understand why all of my witty, intellectual, innovative black and brown friends were shamed and dehumanized for merely being.
My childhood was emotionally brutal and constantly left me wavering between right and wrong. My mother grew up in a world that was cold and relentless. I’m not sure if she made a conscious decision to prepare us for it or if her world was just projected onto us. Her beatings were furious and left me with tears that ran down my face like warm milk, and yet her affection was like no other. She would embrace me with warm hugs that melted us into each other like honey and butter. In those moments it’s hard to tell if she was only manifesting the love she desperately needed or if she genuinely loved me.
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If I’m honest, all of it was harmful. I was on a balancing beam teetering between anxieties. I have always felt the need to protect my mother. It is the reason why it has taken me so long to face my realities by writing them down. It is the reason that even this reality is somewhat filtered. I could never adequately describe the damage that she has done for the public to eat her alive. Part of that is because I already have, and the other part is because when forgiveness is granted, it is not merely because the other person deserves it, but because you deserve to have a life of peace. I had to forgive her for the times I needed her to protect me, and she blamed me. For the hard decisions, I had to make under her discipline. For rejecting me as a best friend and confidant.
I had to forgive her for the times she let her own pain manifest into mine.
Today I view her a little more objectively. She is not the brilliant, laser-focused dictator I once thought of her as. I see the scared little girl who grew up on a dirt road under cotton candy clouds. I see her as a struggling woman with three small children in a strange place. I don’t feel the need to remind her of my childhood because I’ve become too profoundly interested in hers. And so I’ve asked questions that maybe no one has ever asked her, perhaps no one has cared to.
What I have learned about her past has brought more profound enlightenment to understanding the woman behind the broken English and survival of the fittest mentality.
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She was miseducated and unequipped to raise a daughter under her circumstances. She had never experienced the love of a mother, so it became extremely difficult for her to show it.
It was tough to raise a daughter who came from a new world and generation. My freedom was defined a little differently than hers. I’ve recognized my own privileges as a fair-skinned citizen. It gave me the agency to be expressive and challenging. I never had to play sides because I never felt like my life and livelihood depended on it. I’ll never make excuses for self-hatred, it’s roots are deeply embedded in our culture. There is an unlearning that has to be done, that will take decades to teach, and centuries to heal.There is an unlearning that has to be done, that will take decades to teach, and centuries to heal. Click To Tweet
Nobody is born racist. Colorism is something that is taught. It was engrained into her that her melanated skin would never be enough. The idea now brings her deep shame and humiliation. I’ve wondered who was in her life that cared enough to show her dignity and a life of righteousness. When you are surrounded by monsters as a child you either become one or you’re perpetually afraid of challenging them.
There are countless lessons I’ve learned from my mother. She showed me resilience. She taught me how to speak up for myself. She taught me to be affectionate and loving in the midst of my mess. But the most important thing I learned from my mother is that people have the ability to change, and do it radically.
I’ve forgiven my mother for not loving herself enough, and so should you.