I am a product of my environment. The people that raised me, the land I grew up on, the customs I grew up with. That is who I am and that is who you hate. How many times have I heard the simple, “you’re not like the rest of them”? Or how about, “we don’t mean that about you—you’re the exception”? You can’t welcome me and in my presence demean the home of my soul.
I am a product of my environment. I am as Latin as it comes. I sway my hips at the faintest hit of a drum, the vibrations and rhythms pulsing through the ground, the sound vibrating at the base of my feet through my body to awaken the Afro-Caribbean heart I hold in my chest. The heart you told me was beautiful and sweet stems from the blood of my ancestors that bled their heart out for this country as they were whipped and caned to produce the items you needed to thrive and survive. You hate them yet love me.
I am a product of my environment. My pale skin attracts you to me; you find an association with me thinking, “She is going to be different.” In reality I am not. I am like the darkest Puerto Rican you can meet. She and I would be the same, our souls one. The joys of laughter, the passion for dancing, the excitement of enjoying the life we have been given are the things that tie us all together as we represent every spectrum of the rainbow. Yet you accept me and not her because I resemble you. The slightest hue of my tan makes me exotic but not forbidden. The curves of my hips make me a desirable temptation but not forbidden. Yet let a different language roll off my tongue and I am your son’s rebellion, I am a phase your child has brought home for you to meet, because how could your blonde- haired, blue-eyed beauty be able to make the clear minded decision of becoming my friend, making special bonds to tie me in with the family? Not the wild, amber-eyed child of interracial matchings. Blood from warriors, slaves, and those your history book and politicians have taught you to hate.
I am a product of my environment. My accomplishments always questioned, a look of shock when I don’t sound the way you want me to. When I’ve accomplished more than you want me to. Followed by interrogations. How can a Latin woman accomplish all she has and speak as clearly as she does? Because my environment was your backyard. I grew up in the hustle and bustle of a city of immigrants, where the dream of America tied us all together. Where I never felt hated, but encouraged to make my family proud. The older I became the more setbacks you created for me. You asked for the world’s masses but gave us the same bed you gave your vermin. You asked for the world’s dreamers; we built sandcastles of our hopes and dreams and you kicked them to the ground. We became your paid slaves, cleaning up after you, with barely a shrug our way. You fed us your scraps and poisoned our bodies. We were your toys. When you got bored with one, you found another.
I am a product of your environment. Self-confidence sinking to the ground as your society rejected me and taught me to hate myself. When “guidance counselors” told me I was crazy for thinking I could get into certain schools even with my 3.9 GPA, AP courses, and Superintendents Diploma of Distinction. Told me I was better off at a community institution and that they could offer me more than another institution of higher esteem can.
I am the product of our environment, that taught me it’s you against me. That when it comes down to the nitty-gritty you’d rather elect someone with racist beliefs due to policies and give power to white supremacists. That your lives and well-being are more important than my safety. The policies to protect what is yours are more important than policies to protect us all. Our environment taught me segregation, discrimination, sexism, racism, and so many more hateful terms I had no business learning. Our environment has taught me that you are more important than me. That my very being affects your life so bad you prefer to have me gone.
But no, not me. Catherine? The one who makes you laugh with a lively personality. The one who is “not so bad.” No, you didn’t mean to hurt me, just those exactly like me.
You can’t love me and hate my culture. We are the products of our environments.