The word poisons my mouth like a sour Skittle that never turns sweet. The “W”s with their pointy edges get stuck somewhere in my larynx and make me think I am running out of air, but somehow I manage to get past them. One, then another. I can live with those “W”s and their pointy ends. They are only questions one would ask: where are you from? why are you here? Inquisitive, that is all “W”s are. It’s the “S” and the “H” that I cannot forgive.
The “ssh” noise that reminds me to be quiet. Silence. It commands. It wants me to listen, to listen to what is coming next. To listen to the onslaught of reasons why I am not up to par, why I am not “Mexican” enough. Why I am a disgrace to my culture. Why everything I am a part of is a lie. I might exaggerate their thoughts, I know people “don’t mean to judge” but I feel it. That defensive mechanism they turn on when they think I am looking down at them. The smirks they give me and the assumptions they draw.
I hate that word and everything it stands for, everything it implies. White culture. I had no idea what that was before college. I never imagined that I could be “whitewashed” before attending UCLA, before this so-called education. It’s not like there’s a handbook on being the child of Mexican immigrants. It is not like being Mexican American is not complicated enough, now I have to throw in this concept of being whitewashed. I have to question if who I am is a mistake. I have to deal with that word and the assumption that I lost part of myself somewhere down the line, that my life is not really mine.
Whitewashed. It is another term used to oppress. A term thrown out by people of color to remind each other of their “oppressed” state. To remind me that I have a “rightful” place. It is a bright yellow post-it, a flashy neon sign, an alarm with a ring informing me. Telling me to get back in my lane and go back to my people. What people? Mexicans? The ones that would look at me and yell “Americana.” Those that would remind me that even though I looked the part, they knew I was foreign. I don’t know the Mexican struggle, I just know the Mexican American one. The struggle of trying to get the world to understand that being Mexican is complicated. That many Mexican Americans are mixed race. Mexico, full of indigenous people, conquered first by Spain then by the US, my history is lost somewhere in between all this mixing. I cannot claim a race because I do not know what I am. I am darker than both my parents but I am lighter than some of their siblings. On a spectrum that holds all my relatives I am somewhere near the middle.
I do not want to think of race but I have to. With oppression and discrimination on the news everyday it is hard not to get angry. It is hard not to want to draw lines. But it gets harder and harder to draw those lines when your own history is clouded, when the world is run on binaries. When you can be white or black but not brown. When being Latina is not considered a race. When being Mexican comes with all these expectations I cannot meet. When people call me “whitewashed” because they think I have disowned myself.
My boyfriend, he tells me not to care so much about what other people think. He thinks I take their imaginary thoughts too seriously, but there are truths in every lie. With messy blonde hair and skin so light you think there must be something wrong, people think he’s a Nazi. They call him that too, some to his face. I did it once. The word came out of my mouth like a song, like a stupid joke. I could tell from the silence, the fallen shoulders, and the strong eyebrows that he had not taken it that way. Maybe I should have told him not to care so much about what other people thought of him. Thrown his words back at him to see what he would have made of them, but that is no way to keep a relationship.
My boyfriend is the reason why I’m so scared of this term with the Ws. I do not want to think that society has groomed me to love him. I know it is not true but I cannot help but think that that is what others see. Is my love not as valid? Would it be better if I loved someone with brown skin. By loving him I like to think that I am forcing society to deal with its problems. I am forcing society to see us as the same. But when I started to love him I did not do it for the greater good. I didn’t do it for the “cause.” I just loved him because he made me laugh, he listened, and he gave me help. Things just fell into place for us.
Maybe someday I will get over the word. Someday it will not burn as it makes its way up my throat but I will always feel the need to to defend who I am and where I am from. To verify my culture. To show how I am not just a product of my surroundings, but also a product of me.