My name’s Emilia and I’m the blogmistress for the Shadow’s Crescent blog and tumblr. I’m a Latina trans* girl? and I write about gender, feminism, culture, veganism, programming, progressivism, and intersections of oppression and privilege. I also write and post fiction from time to time. I blag about pretty much anything that I think deserves mention. I’m unapologetically forceful about the positions I hold, but I’ll be the first to admit that I fucked something up. Spread the word and let’s tear down the kyriarchy, post by post.
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Intense discussion of racism, depictions of biphobia, use of spanish-language racist euphemisms and a homophobic slur.
A NOTE TO WHITE PEOPLE: Lots of this is gonna be foreign to you. That’s part of the point. I’ve tried to make this as accessible as possible, but a bit of thinking and empathy is going to have to come from you. I don’t want to dilute my experiences for the sake of making this more palatable.
Back when I considered She-Who-Bore-Me and hers a part of my family, we had a “fun,” time honored tradition: trying to convince ourselves we were white.
We’re all first-generation immigrants and to some extent we were proud of it. We emphasized it as much as we could, especially when a blond gringo became She-Who-Bore-Me’s boyfriend. Still, even with all this emphasis, that household was the most toxic environment — in so many ways, but especially with matters of race and self-identification.
It’s taken me about five or six years, but I finally understand what a friend of mine called Monique (not her real name) meant when she called me a brother after she saw She-Who-Bore-Me’s father for the first time when he came to pick me up from middle school one day. His skin’s not as dark as, say, dark chocolate, but it’s damn close. I’m proud to say that I’m a biracial Latina; a girl with, so says a friend of mine whom I love dearly, “deliciously brown skin,” but I spent the first eighteen years of my life thinking and/or wishing myself white.
Soy Venezolana, and proud of it. I find it just a tad ironic, though, that I had to rip myself apart from the culture and people I grew up with in order to realize that.
We could take pride in eating arepas every morning and perfecting the recipe for ground beef; those don’t require much of a commitment either to yourself or others. But when it comes to ourselves — the fundamental natures of our races, our backgrounds, what makes us different from the white culture all around us — then it was a crapshoot; then it was okay to sell out the community that trusts us so enthusiastically to work in its best interest; then it was okay to make blanket, racist, ignorant statements about ourselves, or people just like us.
And so this is why moreno was — and in many ways remains — a dirty word for me. S’a word in spanish which refers to people of color, possibly related to the archaic word turned slur moor. Some cursory searching tells me that it refers to people whose skin is dark enough not to be white but not enough to be black, but that’s not how the word was used when I was growing up; any non-Asian person of color fell under its umbrella — well, any non-Asian person of color but us.
I’m still terrified of the word because the way my dead family uses it just sounds so much like the way white people use the n-word.
Hell, Latin@ and Hispan@ are both dirty words to me. I know that they’re not the best words to describe myself; I know that the country I come from is more important to my identity than some white idea of a Brown Spanish-Speaking Mob, but I still feel such an intense pull to reclaim them as my own.
And you know why?
Because She-Who-Bore-Me and hers became influential in their community by helping documented and undocumented immigrants with thorny things like taxes, immigration, employment, patronage for their businesses, support, and just being fountains of knowledge. They both loved and hated their community; they dedicated so much energy to the community, so much so that their bodies suffered for it, that I refuse to believe that their work wasn’t in some way a labor of love.
Of course, that doesn’t excuse all of the racist, bigoted, hurtful comments they made behind closed doors. And damn, did they make horrible statements, statements guided by White Supremacist tropes. They complained about how loud and boorish those (us) damn morenos are; about how lazy and stupid those (us) damn hispan@s and latin@s are; they called everyone whom they hated maricónes. Every single poisonous comment that I heard come out of their lips felt like a stab in the back to everyone who put their trust in that household.
And so fuck government brainwashing, subliminal messaging in advertisements, whatever conspiracy theories float around this ridiculous series of tubes; this was the true Orwellian nightmare! Try to imagine the Herculean task of maintaining a coherent, complete picture of what your heritage is supposed to be living under all that white supremacist doublethink crap. I couldn’t handle it; my heritage, the culture I came from was presented to me in its most fractured, deficient form, so I turned to whatever else I could find.
Hello, White Supremacy. Hello, White Feminism. Hello, Assimilation. In many ways: hello, Internet.
…obviously, this tale doesn’t really have a happy ending.
In case you’ve never really been in one, let me describe what being in an abusive, controlling, or treehouse-like household is like. If you have been in one and think that you might be triggered by this description, please skip ahead to the next paragraph. In every interaction — whether you realize it or not — there’s an undercurrent of “only I could provide you this experience, right here and right now.” You can try to access other fountains of knowledge, but there’s really no point in doing so, since no-one’s words can compare to theirs. Let that be a framing mechanism for the next few paragraphs.
Growing up, I was praised for my straight, flowy hair and the whiteness of my skin. I was told that I should marry an US-ian woman — and it was always a woman, because heteronormativity. The only person from our Venezuelan heritage that was ever emphasized at all was Simón Bolívar, a white, aristocrat, military leader. I asked about She-Who-Bore-Me’s father’s heritage, to find out how we got so much color in us, because both She-Who-Bore-Me’s mum and He-Who-Sired-Me are both white as the driven snow, thus giving me the biracial part of my identity. They knew nothing; the best answer they could give was, “somewhere in the Netherlands, maybe? Go ask someone else.” Then She-Who-Bore-Me’s boyfriend came into the picture — he who said that anyone who associated the n-word with a racial meaning was ignorant and themself racist, who often used the “but I have black friends” defense, the damn honkey.
That was just one part of the low key abuse that was part of growing up. It was, however, not what prompted me to leave. Bits and pieces of that chain of trans*phobic, queerphobic, and ableist events are posted elsewhere and a full recount of the experience, if I ever write it, deserves its own post.
But yes, I left, thank Athea. Then time passed and I got the worst slap in the face I could’ve gotten. I missed those fucks! Of course, they were the only stable part of my life for my first seventeen-some years, but fuck! that felt so horrible after what they did to me. Part of that longing and melancholy was that negative, bigoted, erasing as its stimulus was, that household gave me some reminder that I’m not a white-as-the-driven-snow little girl. Of course, that reminder was negative, since it placed ‘pure’ whiteness on a pedestal and teased me with the fact that it was unreachable for me, but still.
After a few months, I started to struggle against being surrounded by a completely white friend and support group. I finally started to struggle against the fact that almost no-one in pop-culture looks, acts, or thinks like me; almost no-one is aware of me.
I read voraciously, to fill in the huge hole left in me by White Supremacy. I hang out with as many people like me as I can, to fill in the huge hole left in me by White Supremacy. I write, to fill in the huge hole left in me by White Supremacy. I spread awareness about the kyriarchy, to fill in the huge hole left in me by White Supremacy.
This was years before I started to identify as a girl; back then I both presented and identified as a cis guy. FYI. Remember that not all trans* people fulfill the narrative of we knew ever since birth. That’s usually just crap we tell gatekeeping doctors to get meds. ↩
Another FYI: I don’t feel as if it’s right for me to try to call myself a sister. My heritage is my heritage, but brown as I am, I benefit from enough white privilege that my trying to identify as a sister would be nothing short of appropriation. ↩
Though to be fair, maricón isn’t a racial euphemism. It’s a homophobic slur, on the lines of f*****. If you wonder why I comment one out but not the other, it’s because I feel that one of these words is mine to reclaim if I so wish and that the other is beyond my purview, since it was never used as a weapon against me. ↩
She-Who-Bore-Me’s mother was a biphobic ass. Once, when I asked her for relationship advice during my first relationship, the minute I let her it slip that my girlfriend was bi, her attitude changed completely. She told me that I should dump her immediately, as she’d eventually leave me for another woman and somehow humiliate me and I’d forever lose my manhood, or… something. (Now I know that outing someone nonconsensually is yuck and despicable, but I hadn’t figured it out then. I’m sorry, dear!) ↩
This post is part of Back to School Guest Blogging. If you’re interested in guest authoring on Anytime Yoga, email Tori at firstname.lastname@example.org.