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As The Family Morena, I Am Used To Colorism At Home But Was Not Prepared To Receive It From My Husband’s Family Household

Yo soy la morena de la familia, and it became an issue with my husband’s family.

Ever since I can remember, my skin tone has always been a popular topic of conversation among people who barely knew me and my family members. In my mid-twenties, I overheard my own grandmother and her sisters commenting on the color of my skin. They were sitting on the deck by tía Yolanda’s pool. I was getting them beer from the kitchen

“Such a pretty girl,” I heard one of them say.

“Morenita,” said another.

I stood by the fridge listening, waiting to open it to get their drinks.

“Cheryl’s not that dark?”

“Oh, no,” said my grandmother, “Michelle gets her color from her father.”

It was easier to attribute my dark skin than to acknowledge the Afro-Cuban, grandparents that they shared on their mother’s side of the family, and to not notice that each of them was a different shade of tan, and each had curly hair, some with tighter curls than the others.

My marido is the moreno of his family too, and like mine, his family also doesn’t know how to discuss their family’s obvious African roots, but he and I loved our own dark skin so much that we fell in love with each other and married twenty-one years ago.  

Our dark skin, him a Mexican National, me a third-generation Xicana—it freaked a lot of people out.

Photo provided by author

“Are you sure that he doesn’t have a family somewhere in México?”

I was at my tío again in West Covina, preparing for our Mexican wedding, getting ready to travel with my mom, tía Yolanda, an eighty-year-old grandmother to Colima for our big ceremony. My uncle Rick, (the formerly racist uncle) who is Greek, Italian, and Mexican, asked the question. Ines and I were already married, having had a civil marriage two years before at our local city hall. They liked Inés too, but still felt compelled to ask if I was sure that he didn’t have another wife, and children back home in México.

“I’m sure,” I said not terribly surprised at the question since I already knew that my family’s sense of self sometimes relied on looking down on “other” kinds of Mexicanos.

My tíos are light-skinned, and I got the impression that my uncle wouldn’t have thought to ask this question if Inés wasn’t moreno, as if to imply that his skin-tone and his immigration status made him desperate enough to lie and fool me into marrying him.

Two years in, we had already experienced a range of reactions about our marriage, from weird assumptions to out-and-out disbelief or racism.

Even our immigration counselor, Nelly, didn’t quite believe we were a real couple, in love, hoping to make a life together. She thought I appeared younger than I actually was with my “alternative look,” and him two shades darker, looking like the cross between a Mexican Idris Alba and the Indian actor Irfan Khan, and assumed ours was just an immigration marriage. She stressed to me, over and over, that I would have to support him for up to ten years if we divorced too quickly. Perhaps, Nelly’s confusion about our relationship had to do with how rare it is for American-born Latinx to marry Mexican nationals. In the US, according to a Pew Research Center study, U.S.-born Latinx do tend to marry other Latinx, only about 12% marry Latinx born in a Latin American country. But it wasn’t the only time that my union with Inés confused people.

“Tu eres la esposa de Inés, de veras?”

I was on the dance floor at a wedding reception in Coquitmatlan, Mexico where my husband is from, dancing with the groom, the childhood best friend of my husband, Enrique. The wedding had been in Colima just ten minutes away in an ornate church on the plaza. A professional singer performed the most beautiful rendition of Ave Maria that I’ve ever heard. The reception was in the outdoor courtyard of Enrique’s family home across the street from Ines’ very humble family home that still had a dirt floor in the kitchen.

My Spanish isn’t great, but Enrique made it pretty clear that he couldn’t believe that a woman like me was married to Inés. Was it because I was lighter than Inés, or did he think I was too young? Pretty güero himself, I got the impression Enrique’s disbelief had something to do with his expectations about Ines, his dark-skinned friend from the poor family across the street. Inés, in fact, had to leave México to find work even after finishing secondary school and getting two different industry certificates, a problem that could be explained by the relationship between skin-tone and wealth in that country. A Vanderbilt survey in Mexico found that people with light skin fall in the 70th percentile for wealth on average, while people with darker skin are concentrated in the bottom 50 percent.

I used to soothe my annoyance at people, including those in my own family, who were fooled by the false superiority of lighter skin by making a list of songs in my head that celebrate morenas:

Photo provided by author

“Piel Morena” by Thalia

“Esa Morena” by Ozomatli

“La Morena” by Ilegales

“Morena Ven” by Rosario

“Nina Morena” by Gipsey Kings

There are many great morena playlists, but it’s worth mentioning that there is a certain type of exoticization that happens in some of these songs, a certain type of essentialism, like ideas that all morenas are shapely, sexy women with dark long hair, who shake their hips – mueve las caderas, mueve la cintura. However, ideas in many of these songs that morenas can be pretty, not fea, or a saltapatras is a cause for celebration, in and of itself, when many of us grow up being told to stay out of the sun, encouraged to lighten our hair, sold lightening creams, and colored contact lenses.

But we need more than songs.

We need tías (and other family members) who don’t buy into the idea that lighter skin is better than darker skin, family members who don’t make snap judgments about anyone based on skin color. We need tías who praise children for working hard in school, achieving goals, tending to their mental health, respecting elders, reading books, and exercising, and we need tías who love their own dark-skin too.

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From No-Sleep Lifestyles To ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey,’ People Talk About The Toxic Things We Tend To Glamorize

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From No-Sleep Lifestyles To ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey,’ People Talk About The Toxic Things We Tend To Glamorize

“Being able to function with minimal levels of sleep. I know I used to do that, it feels so much better to get a full night of rest though.”- iimuffinsaur

“This is my mom. I’m a very heavy sleeper. I don’t function without at least 8 – 9 hours a night. She often makes snarky comments about how she was awake at 3:30 am and working while I slept until 5. God forbid I stay in bed until 6 on a Sunday! Then I’m no better than a bum!”- Smart-Connection6154

“When I was in middle school I had stayed up all night like with friends or something and thought the feeling the next day was pretty cool and funny. did it in high school a few times here and there especially in the summer and again I was so cool. Stayed up all night a few times throughout college, either partying, hang out with friends, or studying. I would still function the next day so obviously it was no big deal just sometimes be sleep deprived. I knew what sleep deprivation felt like, I knew what exhaustion felt like. It wasn’t that bad.

Fast forward to early 30s and I’m a new mom. On more than one occasion I can recall sitting on the bathroom floor with my knees drawn up to my chest, sobbing, I can hear my daughter crying in her crib middle of the afternoon, I can feel my organs wanting to shut down and my whole body desperately trying to turn off. Mentally I was absolutely terrified that I was never again going to get to sleep. That’s no exaggeration. I was terrified out of my mind. I really did truly believed that I was dying. It had been months of nights where I was woken up every 45 minutes, only to be up for at least an hour. I was truly considering myself lucky if I got 3 hours of very broken sleep. Even before my daughter came, the third trimester I was up four or five times a night because I have an overactive bladder that was made worse by pregnancy.

When my second came along, I would have anxiety attacks about the impending sleep deprivation that I knew was going to be coming. My kids are older now, they sleep through the night no problem, if they have to get up and go to the bathroom they go themselves and if they do wake me up it’s maybe once a month. And yet I still start to panic if I can’t fall asleep at night or if I wake up during the night and can’t go back to sleep in a timely fashion. I’m so afraid of ever experiencing that level of sleep deprivation again.

Sleep deprivation is no joke.”- girlwhoweighted

“And boasting that you work 60 hours a week and never take any holidays or sick leave.”- _harro_

“If you work super duper hard and dedicate your entire life to your career you become rich! Everybody knows that! All the rich company owners told us that’s how it’s done so it must be true. They are rich after all.”- DarthTheRaider

“My job says if u call out more than 3 times you get an occurrence (basically a mark for disciplinary action). This also applies to being late. There are also a number of ways at work to get a mark as well. 4 occurrences is a warning, 5 is written warning, and 6 is termination. Meaning if you’re just having a very bad year and need to call out more than normal, you’re out of a job. I literally come into work sick because I’m terrified I’ll have some kind of windfall and need to call out in a no choice situation.

These also affect your ability to get promoted which I am trying to do. And even then it’s no guarantee. I’ve called out once in the last 12 months because I’m trying to get a new job that I’m easily qualified for but competing against fatigue worshippers who haven’t called out in years. There were a couple of times I was literally puking in the bathroom I was so sick but didn’t want to call out or go home (going home early is an occurrence).

You may say find a new job, but there are no jobs right now that pay this well. Don’t get me wrong, the pay is great for where I live and I actually like (eh maybe more tolerate easily?) the job. It’s just their culture I can’t stand.”- MasterPip 

“I’m in academia and remember in grad school being so intimidated by postdocs who kept insisting they had so much to do they worked all weekends, couldn’t take vacations, stressed all the time, etc. And this was in Europe so not a crazy work obsession like in the USA!

Made me feel so nervous that I wasn’t cut out for it because I was only doing regular hours, and now that I’m a postdoc myself I can now say those people were just insane. Maybe if you’re in a field where you need to be in the lab for research to happen it’s different, but in mine I’d say you either have terrible working habits or say yes to a ton of stuff you shouldn’t if you’re working 60+ hours every week.”- Andromeda321

“the whole idea of being a ”hustler” and never staying off the grind is extremelly toxic. everyone keeps promoting that you should always work and be productive but that just won’t work. everyone needs a balance in their lives and putting your 95% of effort into working will just drain every bit of inspiration or fun from you.”- taeslid

“I belonged to an internet group with a member who did this ALL THE TIME. No matter the topic of discussion, from working out to watching the Oscars on TV, she would always be inform the rest of us that she had no time for such things because of her job.

She worked as a communications specialist at a small town hospital.”- haloarh

“I think the most jarring part of this paradigm is that the people humble-bragging about how hard they worked and how successful they are never take the time to address the value of:

  • simple good luck (good health, good circumstances, right place right time)
  • waiting

The message is always “look at how good I’ve got it, and all because I worked so hard [implicitly harder than you because I have this and you do not therefore you must not be doing the hard work that I do]”. Obviously there is a value to working smarter not harder and capitalising on opportunities but it overlooks the basic principle that so much must have gone right for them that is beyond their control for which they now take credit.

The waiting point is a big one for me as well. People who espouse this “hard work, constant graft” attitude fail to acknowledge that sometimes in life there is a value derived from the passage of time. Sure some people get lucky and make millions at a young age or become grotesquely famous due to some twist of public interest but for most people there is a real life value in the experience gained through living your life and just turning up. You don’t need to constantly thrash yourself into moving 100mph, you don’t need to beat yourself down for taking some time to catch your breath and actually enjoy life. Sometimes you just have to keep turning the wheel for a bit, maybe it’s a few years in a job that is really good for your career or a few years just putting money in the piggybank so you can buy your first house.

We live in a world that has commercialised success stories, the narrative that you can go from “nothing” to “something” in a relatively short time using the power of your supreme genius and superhuman work ethic is saleable, on social media (celebs on instagram), in magazines, on TV etc etc. Obviously some people do hit a booster and go very fast very quickly but for just about 99.9% of us that’s a fallacy. Sometimes all you need to do is keep working at a healthy, sustained pace and focus on enjoying your time on this planet because there are no bonus points for working yourself into a state of misery.”- aightshiplords

“Severe codependent “romance”. Twilight is a good example of an extreme case of this.

Also, manipulative, possessive, and controlling behavior in a romantic partner.”- tygs42

“Yeah, what the fuck was that “break into her room at night and watch her sleep” crap?

bUt ItS TwOo LoVE!

Bullshit! it’s stalking and it’s creepy.
Him being over a hundred years old doesn’t make it any better either.”- Ruadhan2300

“Also Fifty Shades. You don’t want a Mr Grey, Karen. Women who get a Mr Grey end up in the morgue or in the women’s refuge after fleeing for their lives.”- house_autumn

“Damaged bad boys do not take breakups very well in fiction. See: Anakin Skywalker, Edward Cullen, Christian Grey, etc.”- SamaritanPrime

“Kind of along these lines, when a guy is an asshole to everyone except his girlfriend, it doesn’t mean that she’s special to him. It means he knows how to not be an asshole just enough to convince someone that he isn’t an asshole.”- SmartAlec105

“I remember my mother trying that. It backfired spectacularly when she realized I was enjoying the peace and quiet, so she just beat the shit out of me again.”- PotentialRegister8

“Ah, that was my mom…refusing to speak to me for days sometimes and I usually didn’t know why. At the time it was so stressful and I would spend that time crying and walking on eggshells trying not to upset her further. Now I’m like, uh this was going on from the time I can remember, which was 4 years old and she was an adult…who does that?!”- ummugh

“Twilight. It’s not really a healthy relationship.”- BandicootCrustybuns

“A couple I went to school with used to proudly compare their relationship to Joker and Harley Quinn.

I blame the Suicide Squad movie. It didn’t show off the absolute tragedy of Harley’s relationship with Joker and I’d say it glamourised it more than anything.”- loneOstrich

“The book/movie that really stands out for me is the 50 Shades series. He’s only sexy/romantic because he’s rich. If he were poor and got rid of her car without asking, tossed all of her clothes, tracked her phone, covered her in bruises/hickeys because he didn’t like how she behaves… He was a total shitbag…. Yet so many women thought that their relationship was amazing.”- DelicateIslandFlower

“I was raised by a single father and started to realize that when I didn’t obey out of fear or had my own arguments and opinions he kind of respected me and listened to me more. That caused me to have a very natural behaviour around men regarding my opinions.

I state them, I disagree and I am not afraid to be unlikable because of it. In the end it’s just an opinion and healthy discussions should endure this.

Also, people tend to listen to you if you are respectful, waiting for your turn to talk and state your opinion well spoken and calm, there’s no need to get hysterical or emotional because someone else disagrees with you. I feel oftentimes this might be a problem in discussions and in order to avoid that, women (no generalisation just because the question is aimed at women) often agree because they fear personal conflict.”- tingletangletits

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How Realizing Not Having To Be Agreeable Impacted These Women’s Lives

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How Realizing Not Having To Be Agreeable Impacted These Women’s Lives

So often as women, we find ourselves forced into the position of feeling as if we have to accommodate the feelings and desires of other people. We say “yes” to things when we want to actually say “no.” We smile when we feel sad or upset in order to make others feel comfortable. And more often than not we find ourselves contorting ourselves into being smaller to make others feel big.

Women on Reddit recently addressed the moment they realized they no longer had to do this in order to make others feel better.

The stories were pretty surprising! Check them out below.

“It’s become more clear as I’ve gotten older (hitting 30). Being forceful gets shit done. I don’t need people to like me, but I do need them to do their jobs. It’s worked for slumlord landlords (reporting code violations) and shitty coworkers (refusal to participate in busywork projects).

Being excessively agreeable wastes your time and costs you money. No, I’m not attending wedding or baby showers for acquaintances. No, I’m not buying whatever multilevel marketing crap acquaintances are pushing. No, I do not want to hold your baby.

It also sets you up for shitty, unsatisfying relationships. Potential partner, I am not a maid nor the fun director of the cruise ship that is your life. Handle your own shit.

Focusing on myself has allowed me to achieve my goals.”- SnackHardNapHard

“YES. I turned 30 last year and I started becoming less concerned about being “nice.” When you’re used to being agreeable and a people pleaser, it’s a tough transition, but I’m staying the course.”- 

“Being agreeable and having boundaries can happen at the same time. I feel like I’m constantly evaluating the opportunity cost of saying yes/ being agreeable. Sometimes it’s really no big deal to be agreeable and it doesn’t make you a doormat. Sometimes it’s important to take a stand for yourself and speak up.”- Potential_Sea_832

“Actually when I got cancer. I just started giving no fucks about dumb shit. I cut out toxic people like it was nothing. Wanna be dramatic? Block. Wanna demand i do something for you? Block. It was so freeing and easy. No regrets at all.” –SilentSiren39

“When I was about 9 and my parents divorced, (mid 80’s so this was unheard of), my little friend group thought something was wrong with me and they decided to ostracize me. I vividly remember being on the playground and thought ‘fuck that shit’ and walked off to find new friends. From then on I give no fucks and take no shit.”- McWonderWoman

“100% agree. Honestly I think today was the first time I really truly had an authoritative vibe going on during a meeting. I’ve been at my job for almost 4 years and I’m 30 years old. When I first started, I sat in the meetings taking notes and just listening. Now I’m able to call out people on their shit while still being likable at the end of the day. I think either of the two extremes aren’t as useful as being friendly AND direct. Sad that it took me this long to feel comfortable in these shoes though!”- stripedbathmat

“I thought that I was being “nice” and “cool” and “a good friend” by never having an opinion on anything and always saying “I want to do whatever you want to do!” and “I want to eat whatever you want to eat!”

I would visit friends and I honestly thought I was being “cool” and “easygoing” by having zero plans for what to do while I’m there and making the host make all the decisions.

At some point it began to dawn on me how fucking ANNOYING it was to be around someone who goes out of their way to avoid having an opinion on things. I realized it was a defense mechanism I had built up over decades of living in a house where if you answered a question “wrong” you were harassed and taunted for the next year over it.

Once I realized that healthy, good people who ask you “Do you prefer tacos or Chinese for dinner tonight?” are ACTUALLY asking you and they are not laying in wait, ready to pounce on you and call you an piece of shit for answering the question “wrong” my life changed dramatically.

A person who has no opinion and only agrees with the group is not being “cool” and “easygoing” they are being a freaking door mat!! Probably because of some trauma or low self esteem (a mix of both for me).

Now if asked an honest question, I give an honest answer, and if someone freaks out then I realize that THEY are the one with issues, not me.”- FuckTon_of_Frosting

“For me, this moment happened when I was listening to a podcast called My Favorite Murder. Two women comedians telling stories of murder/crimes and talking about it respectfully the way you would talk to your friends. One episode they say “fuck politeness” in terms of you don’t have to be nice to strangers because you’re scared of seeming rude. It’s how a lot of women end up as victims of violent crime. Now I understand fuck politeness and it has made me so much more aware of my own self preservation and made me realize that people who react negatively to that are not people I want around me anyway. It’s been liberating and has helped my anxiety tremendously!”- Statistical-outlier1

“I’ve always been labeled as “challenging” by most people, especially teachers growing up. It’s gotten me in hot water a few times but the majority of the time, you gain respect. I stand up for myself and those around me that need it and don’t take crap. I don’t have time for toxic people or those who don’t treat me with any respect and it makes life so much easier without the drama. I still care deeply for the people in my life and make an effort to be well liked. But being a doormat doesn’t do you any favours.”- Scotty_Blues

“I never understood why i have to be agreeable to be honest… I was really bad at understanding social norms as a kid and it impacted my life in a lot of bad ways but there’s a lot of silver lining too… I realized a lot about myself and what im willing to put up with purely by Questioning things a lot, and the whole be a lady, be as small as possible, don’t be stubborn, that’s not how girls act, youll change your mind when youre older etc etc thing never made sense to me… It all seemed like it was made up to either stop me from having fun or to excuse people mistreating me (i was called stubborn a lot and i took it as a compliment every time cause it always happened when someone tried stomping a boundry for instance).

Then I grew up and realized it’s all stupid made up rules that exist to hold women down anyway. so yeah, im still dumb sometimes but at least i have enough confidence to not think misogyny is normal and i should put up with it…”- AvocadoBounty

“When it wasn’t about me. For some reason, I find it way easier to step up and say no when it was about other people. Like in college, when we were all out dancing and some creepy guy would start dancing up on me, I’d just go with it. But if a friend of mine was being creeped on, I’d cut in, tell him “no, she’s not interested” and move on. When I started work as a nurse, I realized this was even more important. I had to advocate for my patients because they can’t talk, or because I have information about the patient that the doctors making decisions didn’t. It didn’t matter if I was going against what the rest of the team or the patient’s family thought/wanted. My job was to uphold what the patient wanted.

As far as not being agreeable when it comes to myself, I’d say it was when I had a horrible breakup with my ex. He was the guy I thought I was going to marry, start a family with, and grow old together because he loved me. Turns out I was wrong. And after that, I had this horrible realization that no one (besides family) had my back…which was definitely depressing. but then I realized I could just have my own back, lol. So I started doing things that I wanted to do. I traveled to places I wanted to see. I went back to school for the degree I wanted. I invested and picked up the hobbies I wanted. and I never hesitate to spend money on myself, because fuck it. I’m worth it!”- lexi7171

“When my therapist gave me permission to hate the woman my ex completely destroyed me to be with – as long as I never actually acted on it (which I never have and never will because she didn’t do anything wrong that I can prove, I just fucking hate how her entire life has been perfect and full of money even though she’s basic af, unlike my ex or I). Hating her without reservation let me just…be. It almost gave me a sense of peace. I was never going to get closure from that donkey of an ex and the anonymous hate messages I used to get were definitely from this woman but allowing myself to stop saying “well I don’t want to hate on another woman since he’s the one who was a monster to me” and stopping giving her all these allowances let me see who he really was and how he treated me like shit compared to the way he is with her.”- FragrantEscape20

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