As I weave my way around the uneven cobblestone streets of this city, I get a feeling of comfort. I don’t know where I am going, but I don’t feel lost. This feeling surprises me; in my hometown, I knew where I was going, but I felt misplaced. I didn’t have to use Siri to find my way back home, but I still had this constant fear of going the wrong way. I don’t know what it is, but my hometown didn’t start feeling like home until I left. I don’t miss it. I just miss the people who made it tolerable. They gave me a sense of community; however, I felt like I didn’t belong. When I am here, I feel like I belong. I have this community that makes me feel validated, something that I never felt back home.
I didn’t feel “brown” until I left my hometown. I questioned my brownness a lot when I was growing up. First of all, I am white passing. This confused me a lot because I thought I had to have brown skin to be brown. Like most brown children who grew up in a predominantly white community, I allowed myself to become white washed because I thought if just let people think I was white, I wouldn’t get the uncomfortable comments such as, “You don’t look like them.” Every time I was given that comment, I felt more and more distant from who I was. “Really! You look more Italian to me,” was another comment that dug the idea that I wasn’t brown. However, as I learned about people, society, and political correctness, my ideas and perceptions of what culture and identity truly are, started becoming less vague.
I think I came to terms with the label Latina around when puberty hit. I was this small ball of hormonal rage and had no way of letting out my frustrations. This led me to get into arguments with anyone who was a bigot. I started to listen to NPR, watch CNN, and read more New York Times. With the combination of my parent’s left-winged beliefs, I developed a liberal perspective of our world. I began introducing myself to everyone as a Latina like it was part of my name;
“Hi! I am Emily Cardona and I am Latina.” I didn’t want to get any of the stupid comments or questions from any of my peers, such as, “You look questionable. What are you?” I wanted to make sure everyone knew that I was different and not white. I hate when my ethnicity is confused to be a more Caucasian one because it meant that my differences were overlooked and invalidated. People just assumed that I haven’t struggled the same way that other people of color have.
For years, I felt like I had this heavy backpack filled with issues that I wasn’t allowed to open up. I just carried it around with me at all times, unopened with past traumas and problems. I am pretty sure it caused my scoliosis. All my white friends will never be able to understand my struggles, so what was the point of trying to get validation from them if they were giving an outside perspective? I had this fear that they would just think I was complaining and dismiss what I said. This happened many times, causing those friendships to end. The whole time I was growing up, I searched for this validation that I saw other people of color had. I felt like I didn’t belong to any of the communities that are out there, that I was alone.
Shruti was the one who introduced me to Flawless Brown. I was hesitant to join because the name had brown in it and I told Shruti that I wasn’t brown. She of course gave me a weird look. I told her that I was too pale for this organization and that I wasn't sure if was allowed to join. She proceeds to give me the look, explaining that I am brown, just white passing. Flawless Brown is for all shades of brown even for the lightest brown people. This was the first time I was introduced to the idea that I am brown. I was still nervous to go because I thought I wouldn’t be able to connect with anyone in the organization. I was so wrong. The brown family that I joined ten months ago helped me come to terms with the fact that I am brown, and it gives me a massive sense of pride and joy I found the validation I was longing for. I met dozens of beautiful brown women that supported me as a woman of color. They look at my pale skin and don’t think I am any less brown. For once, I don’t feel like I need to explain my paleness to anyone anymore because they didn't question my identity and took me in without hesitation. I love and appreciate every one of you for that.
As I waddle through the busy streets of Boston, I enjoy this feeling of comfort. I grab hold of it and am never letting go.