BY SOPHIA MOORE
In my house, there are 10 mirrors. I counted. Thrice.
I stumble to mirror number 9, the one in the bathroom, and I stare. I rest my hands on the cold porcelain sink and I look into my own eyes, at the rivets in my own skin, and the deep olive covering that sheaths over my veins and bones. I prod at it. The depth of my skin tone is my outlier: it doesn’t stem from my name or the area I grew up in. And yet, it’s the quality of myself that influences my life, my decisions, the most. In my house, there are 10 mirrors, and in every one of them, I’m brown.
I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the color of my skin. For a long time, I refused to accept that I was Mexican-American because I never felt Mexican enough. After eating dozens of dishes of tamales and home-cooked enchiladas, after dedicating hours of studying to Spanish or consuming telenovelas, I still don’t feel worthy of my ethnicity. I know how deep Mexican culture is, how fluid it runs, like the rivers intersecting its land. I know how Mexico has been claimed and touched by colonizers, the Spanish and the French and the English, and still it is something of its own. Mexico, a magnificent, multi-colored beast, rising and slumbering in my history books. My homeland, but only on paper. I’ve never visited: early on, I shunned my abuelita’s attempts at spoon-feeding me culture. And the mirrors always remind me of that.
When I turn away from my reflection, being brown still modifies my view of the world. As thin as my connection to the culture feels, I’ve never denied the validity of its existence. As disconnected as I feel from the fast-talking ancianas of my family, I’ve never stopped thinking about them. I’ve never stopped fighting for them. Through my discomfort and hesitance to embrace my Mexican-ness, I’ve championed diversity, maybe without ever knowing it. My struggle to personally accept my culture has not stopped me from wanting to see it shine.
I look for the brown characters on the screen when I watch TV. I look for the women who look like me, often bold and stereotyped: the fiery Latina. I read for the girls who have skin the color of caramel and cocoa, I search for them in between the lines of text. I feel them, in my skin and my soul, I know that they are me and I am them and my Mexican sisters are of the same blood that I carry. So why couldn’t I accept that?
For a long time, I truly felt only half as Mexican as the women I saw rooted in the earth of the country. I had a stubborn, concrete view of what “being Mexican” was, as if there were a cut-and-dry definition of who I had to be to fit into my skin.
Until a dear friend of mine, a Mexican brother, asked me what my culture means to me. I had never been asked that question by another Mexican. I didn’t know how to respond, so I asked him back. His response was effortless: “La Raza doesn’t judge because of blood.”
La Raza doesn’t judge because of blood. La Raza doesn’t judge because of blood. I read those words, over and over again, goosebumps spiking my flesh. Those 7 words loosened the self-imposed shackles on my skin, loosened the judgment of appearance. His words gave me permission to belong. I had always looked up to him as being so much more knowledgeable about our culture. His words had ultimate power. They gave me the hammer, and I shattered the mirrors.
Being Mexican isn’t something skin-deep. Culture is a concept so complex and ever-changing that I can’t leave trapped in the mirror, for the sake of my ancestors and myself. I don’t have anything to prove, I don’t have anyone to please: I am Mexican. It’s in my blood, it’s on my face, it’s in my heart. The moment I realized my culture is a living, breathing part of who I am regardless of how I represent it, I was freed.
In my house, there are 10 mirrors. In each of them, I am a Mexican.
Sophia Moore is a first-year sociology and magazine, news, and digital journalism student. She enjoys writing poetry and personal essays, though reporting is her biggest passion. In her free time, Sophia is always looking for new music to listen to or scrolling through Twitter.