Bilingual is Better


I am one of six children. Like so many Latino families, we look like a spectrum of skin colors from very light/white to dark brown. Unlike some Latino families, we all have dark hair and eyes. Some of us get confused for middle eastern or european. My hair, with it’s big curls, is generally what helps people place my ethnicity as Latino, much more than my light skin. When I had a Salvadoran passport, I had to check either “negro” or “blanco” for my skin color. Skin color, with it’s connection to race, is a complicated facet of identity for many Latinos because it is a major difference between us. We might share a language, and even a country of origin, yet the color of our skin sometimes separates us.

This is something I never talked about with my mother, who is light-skinned, like me. But it’s something that I realized matters when a woman told my dark-skinned sister to “go back to your country” when my niece started talking during an outdoor movie. I had never been the target of such blatant and public racism. My sister had. The color of our skin shapes the way others perceive us and the way they treat us, whether as alien or familiar.

I haven’t talked about skin color with my girls, except in passing as we talk about our friends and pictures in books. We have not begun to discuss how color is judged by others. At this young age, it remains just one more physical detail, like hair texture or eye color which can vary, but doesn’t really matter. I know that we will have this talk, or many talks about this, because one of the lovely differences between my two girls is the color of their skin. Marisol’s skin in the summer becomes a rich caramel color. Lucia’s skin is creamy white and rosy. I think both of them are gorgeous, of course, but I have started to wonder how their skin color might affect them in school and beyond.

How might their color affect their sense of identity and power in different environments? They are growing up with a very typical Los Angeles multiracial group of friends and family, but if the world they enter as teens and adults resembles the world today, they will be minorities at their universities and in many of their potential professional workplaces. Will they, as even this light-skinned Latina did, encounter racism in the classroom? This is one of those parenting questions that I don’t know how to answer. Each question just leads to more questions…

Have you discussed skin color with your children? What do you tell them? What do they already know? Have they experienced racism? How did you help them process it? Please share your wisdom.

{Photo via mmolinari}

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