Much like many Latino Millenials out there, we’re growing out of the traumatic parts of our teen years, and coming into our own beings.I will say it is a bit nerve wracking for me to do this whilst raising 4 children-3 full time…but in particular 2 girls.
Growing up, I was the first girl in my family, so I was a spoiled princess. I welcomed the company of my prima who followed 4 years later, but later resented being looked up to, and just wanted to find out who I was on my own. No one asked me if I wanted to be looked up to, so why did I have to be on board with that?
Whilst attempting, and failing at this “I don’t want to be a role model” rebellion, I began going through puberty.
A few years before the hormone changes began to impact my body, age 9 to be exact, my parents moved us from the border town of El Paso, TX to the Dallas. We found home in DeSoto, a southern Dallas County suburb. We went from being around our family 24/7, traveling to tios and tias houses, hanging out with cousins, and neighborhood friends, to temporarily shacking up at my godparents’ house. We knew no one and knew nothing to do, so we raided their pantry daily, and your girl suffered the consequences of too much processed food, carbs, and not enough exercise. I was unable to shed this rapid weight gain, so once those hormones did kick in I was bloated, pudgy, pizza faced mess. Blegh.
But my face soon started to catch up with my bone structure, and was turning into a young woman who received many compliments. These compliments however, came in 2 separate parts. The first part being some thing like “you’re so pretty” …part 2 being: “but you should lose weight.”
I got that 2-part compliment so many times, from so many people, in so many different forms, fashions, and languages, I began to believe every word. “I am so pretty, but…”
I also received lots of compliments on my intellect. I came from a place where light skinned, light haired people were known to be just as Latin@ as the darker skinned, darker haired folks. We were a mix matched rainbow of brown, and no one judged, or questioned just how Mexican you were. You either knew Spanish or didn’t. If you did, cool! If you didn’t, oh well, we were in the U.S., right? Speaking only English made sense too.
Getting transplanted to the opposite side of Texas made me feel like I was in a different country. No one spoke like me, or looked like me. Or if they did, they were tanned white girls who had no concept of white Latinos, and pushed me away as soon as they heard my last name.
And the Latinos? Forget it. If I wasn’t sporting a gold chain, polo boots and shirt, I was not cool enough. Deemed a “coconut” (even though I spoke more Spanish than most of them) because I was in band, in AP classes, and had a serious understanding of Shakespeare, whereas everyone else just kind of read what was on the page. In these classes I’d hear another 2-part compliment:
“You’re Mexican? How cool! Wait, but you’re really smart!”
Or it’d be something like ““You’re really smart…for a Mexican”
Why couldn’t I just be pretty? Why couldn’t I just be smart? Punto. Final. Why did my compliments have to come with a conjunction?
But honestly, I could take all that at school. Between my friends, teachers, EMPLOYERS…whomever.
But it hurt when it’d come at home.
My family, I’m sure thought they were helping me by being honest…but what they said to me became my internal voice: I am pretty, but I’m fat. Knowing I was working out more than anyone else in the family (thanks Marching Band and Color Guard!) I still wasn’t losing weight. The smallest size I ever achieved post puberty was a very stretchy size 9 jeans. Somewhere between practice, picking up my sister form school, friends, boyfriends, family events, college apps, etc. I just DECIDED that’s what I would be: Pretty, but fat. And although this acceptance did do wonders for me in college-finally accepting and loving my body, it wasn’t addressing the issue of me always being limited. I could be smart, but strive to be a wife above all else. I could be pretty, but not pretty enough until I lost weight. I could date a guy, but only if he was willing to be seen with me in public, and if he wasn’t then I could only hang out with him in the ate hours of the night and not tell anyone he was making out with a fat girl.
I’ve worked through those issues now. In fact, I’m still working through them. By viewing those compliments with conjunctions as limits, I’ve set really tight limits for myself and my potential. Limits I’ve just recently chosen to break.
I don’t want my kids to take 26 years to do this. I want them to understand, truly understand that they have the tools within them to everything they want to be, if they work hard. But in the most formidable years, that is up to me to teach them, show them, and tell them they are great. They are beautiful. They are smart. They are beautiful AND smart. AND creative. AND helpful. AND funny. I want to use that conjunction.
Now, I don’t want to raise spoiled kids who think they’re God’s gift to Earth. They’re God’s gift to me, but I’m preparing them for the WORLD…and the world/society will have them think that they shouldn’t be this or that, they must know deep within, they can. They must feel limitless. And if they fall, they fall knowing they tried it, and didn’t even attempt to reach for the stars because someone said they were tall, BUT not tall enough.
My kids will be what they are. No ifs, and, or BUTS about it.
OK, now I know y’all are probably singing the song son, you’re welcome: