Fierce

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.

Yalitza Sparks A Conversation About The Derogatory Term ‘Prieta’

Things That Matter

Yalitza Sparks A Conversation About The Derogatory Term ‘Prieta’

Frazer Harrison / Getty

Prieta. It might translate literally to brown but the word holds quite a bit of weight in the Mexican community where it is viewed as a racist term for dark-skinned people.

Recently, Roma actress Yalitza Aparicio opened up about having the term used against her as a child and again as she’s obtained celebrity status.

This week, Aparicio spoke out about racism in Mexico in a post called “Recuerdos De Mi México” to her Twitter page and explained why she had reclaimed the word “prieta.”

In a post shared on Twitter, a user by the name of Rosario Estrad @rosario55920512 a poem reclaiming the term prieta read “They call me prieta and think it is an insult. Prieta, like the fertile soil under my bare feet. Prieta, like the night. Prieta, the bronze race.”

“That’s right, I’m brown, pretty brown and with my head held high,” Aparicio wrote in a retweet about the post. “I share this text for those who use this word offensively.

Prieta is a word with different connotations in different cultures and countries.

As Remezcla points out, in Mexico “prieta” is used as a derogatory for Brown or darker-skinned people. The term is most often used by lighter-skinned people and in Caribbean countries and Central America, the term is used in an alternate form “prieto” but still with derogatory undercurrents. Aparicio’s decision to reclaim the word has sparked conversations about whether it is okay for non-Black people (no matter how dark or light) to use or claim the term.

Last month, Aparicio penned a New York Times op-ed about the discrimination she’s been forced to endure in and outside of the Latin American community.

Writing about how her role in Roma gave her a platform that allowed her to speak about racism in the Latin community, Aparicio wrote “At that time, Mexico was experiencing political and social upheaval. National turmoil brought to the fore problems that still persist to this day, namely the normalization of classism, racism, and denigration, along with other forms of segregation and belittlement based on skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or social class.”

FIERCE LGBTQ Couples Are Sharing How They Met And It’s The Sweetest Thing

Fierce

FIERCE LGBTQ Couples Are Sharing How They Met And It’s The Sweetest Thing

Charles McQuillan / Getty

As we highlight Pride month, we wanted to share beautiful stories of LGBTQ+ love. To do so, we recently asked our FIERCE readers on Instagram to tell us how they met their partners and the results were not only hilarious but deeply inspiring.

Love is love and we love this kind of love.

Check it out!

The old slide in trick.

“I slid into the DMs.” – joanacanna

On their start to being ~educated latinas~

“My girlfriend and I met at the end of our first year of law school. She would say that I curved her for a few months before we became close. Almost three years later, we are both attorneys and looking forward to where life takes us.” – legalricanmujer

These two lovers who met while pushing for a joint interest

“We met in boot camp! 10 years ago (we’ve been together 2 /1/2 years, married 1 yr.” –hey_itsaj18

Chicas who started out on the same path and stuck together.

“We met in Nursing school we graduated together. That was 4 years ago, she’s a psychiatric nurse and I’m a geriatric nurse.” – m_a_r_i_a__j_o_h_a_n_n_a

They found love in a pandemic place.

Love in the time of Corona, thanks to Hinge!” – bienvenidarealidad__

Turns out the internet is the ultimate matchmaker.

“On the HER app. The same day she liked my profile she ended up coming into my job. I saw her but she didn’t see me. I ended up messaging her that night when I got off of work & we have been inseparable ever since. 3 years later and everyday I fall in love with her over & over again.” – _yourfavoritepoet_

And this is the most hilarious one of all.

“My wife @chulaworldand I were both seeing the same guy (total 🐶) …… so when we found out about each other we met up! And we have LITERALLY been inseparable ever since. Married on 4/20/19.” –bunuelitas