Why in the world would anyone get married while in their 20s? Our 20s are a time for self-exploration and self-discovery; not a time to get hitched and get dragged by someone who isn’t on the same page. Next time your nosey tía asks you why you aren’t married yet, just let her know…
Some of us don’t know what we’re doing after college – and that’s totally cool. It takes time to figure out what we want to do the rest of our life and marriage is the same. Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person? Let me think about it…
I’m not a DNB. I want my Bachelors, Masters, PhD and a bunch of other things.
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
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.
“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.
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:
“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.
I suppose it’s not that uncommon, but my cuñada didn’t like
me much for many years.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, in clipped and heavily accented English the first time we met. She shook my hand taking it away quickly and barely made eye-contact, but I knew she didn’t approve of my short hair, my tattoos, or the fact that I was third-generation Mexican-American. If I had been someone else entirely, she probably would have found other things to hate about her too. My cuñada had left Mexico by herself. From what I know now, there were some dark reasons that she had to leave. It took her two tries to cross in Tijuana, but she made it all on her own, knowing that her brother would pick her up in Los Angeles, show her the way in the Bay Area, and support her financially for as long as was necessary.
She must have felt that my relationship with her brother was a threat.
When we first met, I was visiting the apartment that they shared then. We hadn’t been dating long, but things had gotten serious fast on account of our ages and his immigration status. I was 28 and he was 33.
“She’s just one of those women who doesn’t like other women very much,” my marido explained.
I hated those kinds of women. He squeezed my hand on our way down the stairs of his apartment on our way to eat. We always went out to eat those days. I could see the spring light shining through the large glass-front apartment door. Everything was shiny, new, and bright then, except for this one thing; this relationship with my cuñada.
I was pretty much the opposite of my cuñada. I was American-born, raised by women, had been in a band with women, and was about to start attending Mills College, a private women’s college in Oakland. I defaulted to hating or distrusting men and liking women, feeling a kinship through our shared inequality in a male-dominated world. But for months and months, maybe years, when I’d see her, my cuñada would attempt a smile and say, “Hola, Morena,” her lip sneering as it rolled over the ‘r’ in my family nickname, Morena.
Still, I had vowed to not default to hate her just because she was a woman who didn’t get along with women, or because she was my sister-in-law.
I wasn’t going to compete with her or play into the
catty-woman stereotype, and I was going to be kind and compassionate to her no
She made this very difficult.
When we first met, my cuñada had been living in the US for three years already, but she spoke very little English. I was surprised by how little English she spoke. She was surprised that I spoke very little Spanish.
“Hay muchos Mexicanos que no pueden hablar español.”
She said it a few months after my marido and I were married. She said it not to me, but to a friend who was bilingual, perhaps thinking that I wouldn’t understand her. Then she said it again to another friend. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I promised not to participate in the catty-woman stuff or be passive-aggressive or hate a family member. I made myself another promise – to be kind and compassionate no matter what, but not to take her shit either.
I knew, though, that this one slight was so personal that it was going to be hard to forgive.
My marido got into bed first that night. I put on my
nightgown, and sat down on my side.
“Hey, you need to have a talk with her sister ‘cause if you
don’t do it. I’m going to have to do it.”
He looked up. “About what?”
“About what she said.”
“What did she say?”
I put my hand on my hip and did my best imitation, “Hay
muchos Mexicanos que no pueden hablar español.”
“Oh, that.” He made a face.
“You better talk to her because if I have to do it, by the
time I’m finished with her, she will be so embarrassed that she has been in the
US for three years and doesn’t speak English that she will never want to speak
it. That’s what’s going to happen.”
It wasn’t my finest moment.
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll talk to her.”
He never told me how the talk went, and I never asked because I didn’t need the argüende and because she never said it again. Within a year, she made us the padrinos of her first born, but I knew that I was only the madrina because I was la esposa de su hermano.
I still get a flash of anger when I think about her “hay muchos Mexicanos” comment, or the time she wouldn’t get out of the car to come and see our new house, or all the times I saw her roll her eyes and sneer at me, but I’m older than she is, and committed to supporting women, so I just waited her out. I took my ajihada on weekends to give my cuñados a break, made sure to remember my cuñadas birthday, participated in their extended family’s parties, even when I didn’t want to, and tried to forgive and not hold it against her when they had to miss our son’s birthday parties, prioritizing her marido’s large family’s numerous gatherings over ours.
Slowly but surely over the years, the ice began to thaw between us. My warmth, no matter how awkward and forced, combined with time and maturity, on all our parts, has allowed something new to develop, something real. And it’s good that I worked hard not to hold grudges and forgave what I perceived as slights because learning to forgive is good for our health. It can lower blood pressure, risk of heart attacks, cholesterol, and forgiveness can help improve sleep.
“Hi, Morena,” she smiles when she sees me now (which seems like all the time), and hugs me tight, and dumps a pile of food she brought, leftovers from the Philipino restaurant where she works, or un bote de frijoles that she made at her place and brought with her, a whole packet of corn tortillas, the family-size packet, and cans of soda in any flavor anyone in the house might drink. The other night she brought me a bottle of my favorite wine, and I shared it with her because that’s what cuñadas do. That’s what we’re supposed to do.
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