“Niña! Bajate de alli!”, I can hear my grandfather yelling at me from the little porch behind the house as I swung on the tree filled of guava. I was born in Paitilla, Panamá; daughter of my Panamanian mother Rudy and my Jamaican father Richard.
My name is Rubi Elizabeth Berry Harewood and you might think “What story does she have to tell?”. We live in a world where our skin and where we come from defines who are, even though we are much more than that. I am a proud Afro-Latina that has faced the struggles of being neglected by own and who has had to learn the hard way how to love the skin I was created in. I never felt like there was anything different about me until I came to America and started school. I’m not saying there is no such thing as discrimination in Hispanic countries, because trust me there is.
In the family I grew up in, I was used to seeing all the different shades on skin, the kinkiest to loose curls, it was all normal to me. They day I started elementary school I was put in a bilingual class and that’s when I started to struggle with identifying who I was. I was the only morenita in the class, the only one with a short little fro. I think even the teacher was surprised to see me walk through those doors. Did it bother me? No, but I could tell it bothered them. I remember vividly how everyone including the teacher tried putting me down. “How do you say this in spanish?” she said as she pointed to a picture of an airplane, “Avion!” I shouted in excitement because I knew the answer. “Noooo, you’re wrong!”, every kid in the class including the teacher snapped back at me.
Till this day I still wonder what the answer was according to them. My english was not that great still, but my mom worked really hard with me so I could get moved into the english speaking class. The day came, and I was beyond nervous, like any other kid on the first day of school. I walked in and the first thing I saw was girls and boys that looked like me (they had different skin complexions). Excited was not the word! I knew I wouldn’t have problems this year. I was wrong.
On the first day of school, it’s like you’re the shiny new toy, especially when you’re not like anyone else in the room. But these kids were just as mean, “You can’t sit with us because you’re too light to be like us”, who would have imagined kids at this age even had that type of mentality? Years went by and I had no idea where I belonged. You are probably thinking, “well it’s just a bunch of schoolkids, who cares what they think when you have family”, I thought the same.
My mother was born and raised her whole life in Panamá, she came to America not knowing an ounce of english and she only finished school up until elementary school. My father on the other hand came from a family where everyone went to college and had great jobs, so you can imagine where this is going. They weren’t kind to my mother, not the way she deserved kindness. I slowly started feeling that pain she felt, to the point where I thought I was never going to make it to college, I was never going to get anywhere in life. I felt what she felt, being treated as less because english wasn’t my strongest language either, feeling less because school was hard for me at times because of the language barrier. They spoke to my mother as if she was any less than them, and I could feel every harsh word being digged into my heart.
It was hard enough being treated differently by outsiders, being disliked by Hispanics because they believed I was African American and even being disliked by African Americans because I was not black enough complexion wise and culturally. So what was I supposed to do when even family treated me differently? The only time you’ll be accepted is if you’re a straight, caucasian male and that’s the sad truth.
There has been so many times where I have hated the skin I live in. I’ve hated it because because my ex boyfriend’s mother didn’t get along with me until she found out I was half Hispanic. I’ve hated it because I never truly belong in a category. I’ve hated the way my skin complexion turns into the color of canela. I’ve hated the springy curls that grow out of MY head because people think it’s too much and too “poofy”.
Society taught me how to hate myself. Society taught me that I didn’t belong anywhere. I think one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve faced is how I’m also treated by Hispanics. I hear them whispering and I see them look at me through the corner of their eye. Whispering about how “esa negra” took the last item on the shelf. What do I do? I politely tell them “tenga senora, que yo no lo necesito”, oh the looks on their face, the embarrassment is shown through their bloody red cheeks.
The best you can do is be happy with who you are, where you come from, because at the end of the day no can take that away from you. My name is Rubi Elizabeth Berry Harewood, and I’m a proud Afro-latina. I’m proud of my roots, of being bilingual, of my beautiful brown skin complexion. Like my favorite poem by Victoria Santa Cruz says:
De hoy en adelante no quiero
laciar mi cabello.
Y voy a reírme de aquellos,
que por evitar -según ellos-
que por evitarnos algún sinsabor,
llaman a los negros gente de color.
¡Y de que color!