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.

Readers Share Adorable Stories of How Their Parents and Abuelos Met

Culture

Readers Share Adorable Stories of How Their Parents and Abuelos Met

@JulianFdo /Twitter

In the era of hookup culture and online swiping, it’s comforting to look back on the days when dating was a straight-forward affair: boy meets girl, boy likes girl, boy marries girl. End of story. But, times have changed and finding your other half can feel more impossible than every Luckily, we can always look to older generations to give us hope. Their romantic stories of days past are always inspiring.

Readers of FIERCE by mitu shared their cute stories of how their parents and abuelos met. Check out some of our favorite ones below!

1. The old bait-and-switch

@ChrisRAlonso/Twitter

“My abuelos met eachother while they were living in Cuba. Abuelo pretended to be 5 years older than her to get her attention but was actually 2 years younger. He asked her out for ice-cream on their first date.”

2. The Cinderella Story

@JulianFdo/Twitter

“My Dad was rich & Mom poor, he chose her and was disowned by his family and lost his inheritance. They lived happily ever after working their asses off once they came to the United States. Love my parents”. -@mrs.jaypeeonenine

3. Love Letters Gone Wrong

@kathleenlights1/Twitter

“My dad was playing basketball at my moms high school. He saw my mom and asked her if he could write her. 1953. Mom told dad to write his address on the locker that he was using for the basketball game ( girls lockers). He did. On Monday morning the principal of moms school called to complain to the principal of my dads high school and was angry his basketball team had written all over the lockers. My dad and his team were punished and had to go back to my moms school to clean up the lockers. I still have the first letter my dad sent my mom. Mom passed away 10 years ago. I’m 64 and will never forget their love story”. – @dollycardenas50

4. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach

@cokythelad/Twitter

“My mom and dad both immigrated here from Argentina when they were kids. My dad was 9 and my mom was 2. My dad ended up going to high school with my mom’s little brother and they got super drunk one night together when they were 16. They were scared to go back to their houses (the wrath of a Latin mother!!) so they tried to sleep in a park. It got too cold, so they went back to my uncle’s place and decided to wake my mom up by throwing rocks at her window. At 3am, my mom let her hermanito and my dad crawl through her window. My dad and uncle set up camp in my uncle’s room to sleep everything off, but they were starving. My uncle sent my dad to knock on my mom’s door and ask if she could make pancakes (bc they’re legendary). She thought he was so cute, that she made them pancakes at 3am. They’ve been together ever since (they’re 52 now).” -@bryduca

5. A Tale of Two Heights

@joeytovar_ /Twitter

“My grandparents went to school together. He asked her to be his partner for a dance performance once. Grandpa says he would have asked her sooner but didn’t see her. He’s 6ft she’s 4’10.” -@danhely

6. Love at first sight

@lcarreradesign/Twitter

“My abuelos met each other on a bus in Chicago while Guelo was studying to be a priest. He was a light skinned, fiery haired Mexican man with a friendly smile. Guela’s golden brown Puerto Rican glow was accented by her elegant black ringlets and graceful summer dress. He was smitten the moment he saw her! They conversed about spirituality, faith, and love for something greater than self.Less than one year later, Guelo traded one sacrament for another so that we, our family, could be born.” -@e.m.castro

7. Flirting By Throwing Rocks?

@keithmburke/Twitter

“My abuela would fill up her cantaro with water & whenever she walked by, my abuelo would through small rocks. She hated him for making her dump the water & he loved how beautiful she looked angry”. -@mija_por_favor

8. Life-long dance partners

@babybellabb/Twitter

“My abuelos ran into each other multiple times in one day. They had gotten onto the same bus two different times. Later that night when my abuelo saw my abuela at a dance he decided seeing her a third time that day was a sign and asked her to dance. And they were dancing partners the rest of her life”. -@thetiffanyandco

9. The Bashful Beginning

@leticiasaurus /Twitter

“My dad was friends with my mom’s brothers but he never met her despite always being around. One day, my mom was cleaning the floor outside her house & saw my dad walking from a distance towards the house. She dropped the broom & ran inside. The rest, is history”. -@lifeasingrid

10. The Whirlwind Romance

@ohmy_itsyza/Twitter

“My grandma and grandpa met while being migrant workers. Grandma was 15 and he was 18. My grandma’s sisters were trying to get with my grandpa but grandma wasn’t having it. Their time at that location was almost over and they were going to be separated so after two weeks of knowing each other, they decided to marry. They were married 62 years before my grandma passed.” – @amorettenoel

11. A Military Marriage

@prietitaV/Twitter

“My grandfather was in the marines and was stationed in the Dominican Rep. training the Dominican Air Force. At a party he meet my abuelita and fell in love. He had to asked his superiors for permission to see her, then my great grandfather to court her. They both passed away one right after each other after being 50 years together” -@claudia_teresa1

12. A Meeting of Cultures

@TheHernandezLab/Twitter

“Mi abuela, Soledad, or Chole, was a very attractive and creative woman. Soon after high school she was dancing in a women’s Mexican folklorico troup at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Mi abuelo Modesto, was selling Cuban cigars as a traveling salesman. They met at the Fair, fell in love and eventually had my mom, Rosalia.” -@fridadina

13. An arranged marriage with a happy ending…

@brina_la_nica/Twitter

“In my dad’s side of the family my grandma had to marry my grandpa because a chismosa saw her talking to him outside the grocery story, so my great-grandparents arranged the marriage to restore their honor. In my moms side of the family my grandma had to marry my grandpa to pay off a debt of his family take care of hers after my grandmas parents passed away when she was young. They loved each other and lived happily ever after.#arrangedmarriages” -@iris_herndz

14. An Irresistible Passion

@daiciamestas

“My parents met at a dance in Durango, Colorado. Durango is a college town perfectly located in the middle of my parent’s hometowns. My mother was promised to someone else through engagement, but my father won her heart before leaving for the Navy.” -@daiciamestas

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Married A Gay Couple And It Was The Sweetest Thing

Fierce

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Married A Gay Couple And It Was The Sweetest Thing

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Catherine Pino and Ingrid Duran are not your typical Washington, D.C. bureaucrats. Not only are these powerful women two of the only Latinx women to own their own consulting firm, but they are definitely some of the only women to do so while being married to each other. Pino and Duran founded D&P Creative Strategies in 2004, long before the wave of acceptance of LGBTQ  swept the American consciousness. “We created our company in 2004 because we both really wanted to strengthen and advance the relationship between the LGBTQ and the Latino communities because at the time it was very different than it is today,” Duran said in an interview with Affinity magazine. “It was important for us to build a strong bridge between the two and change the narrative.”

Duran and Pino’s mission is one that doesn’t get enough attention within the Latinx community.

But according to Duran and Pino, they have methods to tackle that. Their consulting firm specifically aims to “[increase] the role of corporate, legislative and philanthropic efforts in addressing the concerns of Latinos, women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) communities”. When they founded their firm, they made waves for deciding to take the D.C. political world head-on as an out lesbian couple. “If businesses don’t want to work with us because we’re gay, then we don’t want to work with them,” said Duran to LGBTQ Nation.

But back in 2004, although Duran and Pino were out-and-proud, they were not legally allowed to authenticate their bond in the United States because, at the time, same-sex marriage was illegal. But in 2015, that all changed. Their friend Justice Sonia Sotomayor invited them to hear the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case at the Supreme Court–the decision that ruled that marriage was a fundamental right of all Americans–including for gay couples. Four months later, they reunited with Justice Sotomayor. This time, however, the honorable judge was officiating their wedding.

Although they appear so comfortable with their identities now, navigating their identities as lesbian Latinas has not always an easy journey for Duran and Pino.

@LatinosLead / Twitter

When they were younger, their families’ struggled to come to terms with their daughters living a “non-traditional” lifestyle. Pino’s family, in particular, had trouble coming to terms with her sexuality. Raised in a conservative Catholic family, the idea of having a lesbian daughter was “unheard of,” according to Pino. 

As for Duran, while she thought her family would be understanding by virtue of them being progressive Chicano activists, their reaction was not as open-minded as she had hoped. Her mother believed that she had “done something wrong” in raising Duran and “struggled with what will people think”. “It was a journey for my mom to come around,” said Duran. “But when she did, she came full circle”. 

Perhaps their families’ ultimate changes-of-heart gave these women the confidence to believe the Latinx community was capable of change as well. These women are nothing but optimists about the future of America and the possibility of change. Speaking about the current administration’s policy towards Latinos, Pino doesn’t seem to be worried in the least. “Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas,” she said to LGBTQ nation. “I firmly believe in my heart that this too shall pass…We just both very much feel that we need to do as much as we can where we can and just keep working hard on these issues.”And working on the issues, they have. 

In 2015, the couple partnered with The Freedom to Marry initiative to create the campaign “Familia es Familia”. 

The campaign was “a national public education campaign” targeted towards the Latino community with the goal of normalizing the idea of marriage equality. According to the women, it is some of the work they are most proud of. As for what’s next, D&P Creative Strategies appears to be actively involved in campaigns promoting Digital Literacy, net neutrality, Latinx media representation, and supporting Latinx businesses. In this day and age of political grandstanding and empty promises, it’s inspiring to see Catherine Pino and Ingrid Duran walking the walk. 

Pino and Duran also use their platform to educate the Latinx community about issues that are close to their hearts. They created the production company “Brown Beauty Productions” as a means to “invite Latinos in the United States to tell their innovative and inspiring stories”. They have produced numerous documentaries for HBO regarding POC and LGBT issues like “The Latino List” “The Out List” and “The Trans List”. All of these happen to be projects providing information, insight, and a human angle to stories that aren’t always told in mainstream media. In other words, these ladies are working at changing the culture from every angle. They are an inspirational example to every queer Latinx person out there that the sky is the limit.