Brown hair. Brown eyes. Brown skin. I am brown, like the conchas my abuela makes, and almost as sweet as the dough she uses. I am the brown daughter of a brown woman who became a statistic when she found out she was 16 and expecting, and of a brown man who spent his days and nights fixing cars too expensive for his family to afford. These brown parents made me the brown granddaughter of young abuelos — or, if you listen to your TV, brown “border hoppers.”
I am brown like the beautiful leaves that hung off the tree just outside the window of our two-bedroom apartment, like the plates of beans and tortillas my mamí crafted with her brown hands just before she called us to dinner: “Marina! Jesús! Ángel! Jorge!” We all have brown names, but mine is special: It was taken from my mamí’s favorite novela.
Brown was the color of my papí’s hands when he came home. They were stained with oil, sweat, and tears — all products of his attempt to support the six of us. The pages of the books my papí and I studied for his application to become a citizen were also brown, and so were the coins my mamí and I collected through the kitchen window as we sold dulces to the plebes. I found many brown stains on my baby brother’s onesie, since, as the oldest, my brown hands were the ones that loved and cared for him while the rest of the niños played outside.
Brown skin, but with an education equivalent to that of someone with white skin — that’s what my mamí wanted for me. Brown skin with an education is a lethal combination, though. My mamí’s brown tongue tried to help me with homework, made me sound out words letter by letter to ensure that my tongue would become bilingual. I could barely understand her through her accent, and my brown, foreign tongue struggled to pronounce every stubborn “r” it encountered.
My brown hair was perfectly combed down to my waist the first day of school. Brown pencil shavings covered my desk, which bore my name clearly in the center: Marina L. Preciado. My beautiful, bronzed brown skin stood out compared to my classmates. I looked different. I spoke differently. I was proud of my brown papí applying to become a citizen. I could hardly memorize multiplication tables, but if you asked me about the responsibility of each branch of the government, I could quickly respond. My brown voice faded out when I told the blonde girl next to me about the branches of government, and she told me she could sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” something my brown tongue couldn’t accomplish without rolling the letter “r” on “rockets.”
The brown and black children who lived in my apartment complex didn’t go to the same school as me. I went to school where the big houses were. My mamí always told me I wasn’t allowed to go to school in our low-income barrio. She said the schools near the big brown houses were where the smart kids went. At the time, I didn’t understand that.
Brown was the color of the carpet on which my mamí lay as angels held her hand while she walked up a golden staircase. Brown was the balcony my brothers and I leaned over as we watched a flood of sirens and lights fill the parking lot of our apartment complex. It was as if I lost my name; I became “the brown girl who cried for her brown mamí as her brown papí fled the scene.” Brown was the flan offered to me and my brothers as an attempt at comfort when our lives were left in confusion and shock. Eight years later, brown witnesses stood nearby as we testified, listening to recordings of old interviews that hardly sounded like us. I used to have an accent?
Brown became just a color after my mamí passed and my three brothers were no longer present in my life. My once-beautiful bronzed skin faded to a pasty, pale white as my mother's absence took with it the pride she had instilled in me. The brown boots I wore to family parties were thrown to the back of my closet. I refused to embrace my brown Mexican roots and focused only on fitting in with the white kids at my school.
I was 16 when my father allowed me to take a trip with my novio to Mexico. My brown huaraches had not touched the warm, sun-kissed Mexican soil since my mamí was around. Immediately I felt the spicy, colorful, and loving brown culture flow through my veins. It felt like home.
I am 17 now. My friends are all different shades of brown and black. My brown “border-hopping” abuelos remind me that whether an immigrant is selling flowers or working as an engineer, no one comes to the States to follow pendejadas. I will be the first brown child in my family to move on to higher education, as my abuelo works day and night to ensure he provides every opportunity my mamí would have wanted for me.
Brown was the color of my mamí, who was stereotyped as soon as my big brown eyes opened in a delivery room in July 1999. Brown was the color that led others to stereotype me and think I would continue the pattern of young pregnancy, especially after my mother walked up that golden staircase.
Brown is the color I am now, here, today — a social activist working to inspire and empower as many brown hands and hearts as I can reach. I am brown, outspoken, and passionate about the issues in both countries that have evolved me into the chingona I am today. I stomp my brown boots into the warm, sun-kissed brown dirt at family parties again. Brown is the color of my mother’s eyes as she watches over me, proud of the way I represent la raza today, proud of the barriers I have destroyed and the walls I fight to turn into bridges.
Piel canela, ojos cafes, nopal en la frente.
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