My mother emigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in the early 1980s. She became a U.S. citizen in the mid 80s and in the early 90s she had me. She raised me on her own with occasional help from my grandmother. My skin is tan, my eyes are brown, and my hair is curly. My first language was Spanish; I didn’t learn English until I started school. My birth certificate proves my American citizenship. However, I felt like I didn’t fit the mold of an American or a Dominican.
I am an only child. Growing up, television was my escape from the boredom. The problem with television shows back then is that almost no Latinos were being represented. Every show featured two parent households, something I would know nothing about. Almost all the families were white and no one was bilingual. The American way of life that I saw on TV was not the life that I had.
When I go to visit family in the Dominican Republic, they are quick to inform me that I am an American. I didn’t grow up in el campo the way the rest of my family did. I don’t know how to cook the country cuisine from memory like my relatives can. I listen to music other than bachata. My Spanish is not that great. In my family, I am the black sheep.
I lived in a town that had a huge Latino population, but it seemed like the prettiest girls were the ones with the fairer complexions. They had a lot of friends, people noticed them, and they never got picked on the way I did. If I am being honest I felt like I was cursed because my skin tone wasn’t viewed as the ideal one.
Things did not help when in high school, I moved to a town that was predominantly white. For the first time in my life, I had to deal with in your face racism. For a couple of years, I had an identity crisis. I was too tan to be American but I was too American to be Dominican. I was told many times by my peers to go back to my country. I was ridiculed when I spoke Spanish in public, being told that I lived in America I should speak English. I was told that I was unattractive because my hair wasn’t blonde, I was curvy, and I had curly hair.
I felt like an alien from outer space who got lost on their way home and crashed landed on some awful planet. I felt ugly and misunderstood. I started to feel ashamed to call myself Dominican, trying my hardest to remove that part of myself. I stopped speaking Spanish, I straighten my hair, and I refused to go outside so the sun wouldn’t darken my skin. By the time I got to my senior year of high school, I was so depressed I stopped hanging out with all my friends.
When I graduated from high school, I was in the depths of a depressive episode. I didn’t feel like a person and I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was in college were I was surrounded by people of all different cultures that I started to feel a sense of normalcy. I was no longer a minority. I could speak Spanish and not feel ashamed. I was told how people envied my skin and being tan no longer felt like a curse. Discussions in class about what it means to be American, made me realize that I wasn’t the only person in the world who felt stuck between two cultures.
Sometimes I still feel like an alien on some awful planet but I know that I am not alone. I am a Dominican American, born in the USA from an immigrant parent.