Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Stephanie Nguyen
"Ya no te pongas más negra o te vas a ver fea": a phrase my mom tells me every Summer, without fail, when she notices that my skin is getting darker. In English, the phrase translates to "Don't get any darker or you're going to look ugly."
I'm half-Mexican and half-Laotian, and growing up, I was always the darkest among my Mexican side of the family. My mom is of fair complexion, and everyone in her family is at least three shades lighter than me; hence, the reason I always believed I looked more like my dad. Everyone in his family is pretty much the same color as me or darker.
My friends in high school were mostly all white, and even if they weren't, they still had lighter complexions than I did, and I wasn't the only one who noticed. The fact that they would all get sunburned during the Summer and I would only get darker was always pointed out (as if it was a bad thing, mind you), and it would always be accompanied by the statement, "It's because she's Mexican."
My mom still reminds me of how "negra" I got that year and tells me to stay out of the sun so that never happens again.
I still vividly remember the Summer before I started college — that was probably the darkest I've ever been, which makes sense since I was practically out in the sun every day. My mom still reminds me of how "negra" I got that year and tells me to stay out of the sun so that never happens again. I even recall changing my foundation color to match my tan and my mom asking me why I bought such a dark shade, even though it matched me perfectly.
Because of these constant negative comments growing up, I became ashamed of my brown skin. I hated that my skin got darker in the Summer. I hated that I could never truly enjoy my favorite season because I was constantly trying to limit my time in the sun to prevent my skin from getting darker. I even dyed my hair a lighter shade of brown to try to look lighter, but that only did the opposite. I became overly self-conscious of my skin color and wanted to hide my culture. I was embarrassed.
I ended up reconnecting with a friend from elementary school who is also Mexican, and I was in pure awe of her confidence. She, too, attended a predominantly white school growing up, but unlike me, she was proud of her brown skin, and her mindset was always "the darker, the better." I admired her for this and hoped that I would feel that way about myself one day.
It wasn't until I went to college in LA that something finally clicked. I was around people of all different skin tones, and nobody even seemed to care if I was brown or not. In fact, it was the opposite of how I grew up — people actually wanted to be tan, and in their opinion, darker skin was more attractive. Nobody told me to stay out of the sun. Nobody told me that dark skin was ugly. I was able to hang out at the beach as much as I wanted and not care how dark I got — but, of course, I wore sunscreen.
Even though it took me a few very long years to finally embrace and love my brown skin, I recognize now that colorism is real. Yep, people with the same background as you can still discriminate against you because of the color of your skin.
Whether we've been exposed to colorism through society or through our own family and friends, people with lighter skin are often still deemed "better" and "more beautiful" in Latinx communities. Now I obviously see how ridiculous the whole thing sounds, but growing up, it wasn't so easy. Sure, my mom still makes those comments, but do I let them affect me? No. I love my brown skin, and I'm even more proud of the culture it represents. And honestly, I'm a whole lot happier this way.