Due to the mestizaje (mix of races) when the Spaniards came to Latin America, there is no single way to describe what a Colombian looks like. In my country, we have people from Italian, African, or Arab descent (i.e. Shakira), but mostly, we have mestizos, or people who are a mix between Indian and Spanish heritage.
Although race could’ve been a confusing part of my life, it never really was until I started traveling abroad. The truth is, I never really thought about my skin color growing up.
[bctt tweet=”I never really thought about my skin color growing up.” username=”wearethetempest”]
My mom is trigueña, which is a term used to describe people who are neither black or white; in other words, someone who can get a good tan. My dad on the other hand, is really fair-skinned, kind of pink, actually.
I grew up thinking that I was trigueña like my mom. After all, I spent literally every weekend by the beach and was always tan – which was probably very unhealthy for my skin – but anyways, when I reached my teens, things changed. I started taking care of my skin and noticed that I was actually fair-skinned like my dad.
I mean, what the hell? How did I go from being trigueña to pink?
When I told my mom that I was trigueña, she was abashed, and replied (as if proud), “No señorita, you’ve always been white like your dad.”
I didn’t think anything of it at the time. After all, I had friends of all skin colors. It was cool if I was trigueña or pink because no matter my race, I was still Colombian.
But with time I noticed that to many people outside my country, I wasn’t “Colombian enough.”
During my semester abroad in Spain, I was in a cab when the driver asked me where I was from (because of course he could tell that my Spanish was different). When I gave him an answer, he couldn’t believe it.
He lifted his sunglasses and stared at me through the rear-view mirror.
“Wow, but you’re really white! I always thought Colombian women were dark-skinned and had dark eyes!”
I didn’t have any of those things. I wasn’t white, but I wasn’t dark-skinned, or dark-eyed either. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
He didn’t stop there.
“Your ancestors must’ve been from somewhere in Spain!”
So I told him that they had come from the Basque country (to which he was even less thrilled).
This hasn’t been an isolated incident. Even in the United States I’ve gotten comments from white men like, “I’ve heard Colombian women have great butts.” No. Sorry. Not me.
Or the classic one I got during a date with a white boy a few weeks ago:
“Are you sure you’re Colombian?”
*silence and confusion*
The reality of the situation is that the fact that my eyes are green, my skin is fair, and I lack a butt, does not mean that I am not 100% Colombian. Yes, it’s true that a zillion years ago my ancestors came from Spain, but that doesn’t change anything. I didn’t even meet these people. All I know is that I’m Colombian, even if you think that my white-passing makes me somehow “superior.” Somehow “un-Colombian.”
I’ve chosen to stop trying to decipher where my features come from. Like why I tan instead of get sun burned, or why my hair is curly instead of straight, or why my body looks a certain way. These things do not change how I feel about by identity. Although my white-passing does give me some kind of privilege, it will not, ever, make me forego my identity as Colombian.
After all, that is the only country where my roots are.