Memories Of My Brown Skin

by Aracely Mondragon, ’13

I’m starting to break all the silences that confine me. And I’ve never hidden my skin, but now I place it inches from yours and let you see the pain they hold.

According to a report published by the Human Rights Watch in 2009, the majority of people deported are deported for non-violent crimes. A little over one million families members are separated by these deportations. I am one of those million.

Some moments in your life you remember with painful precision. These moments can define you… they seep into your skin, engrave themselves in your heart and if you look closely you can see them in my eyes and hear them in my voice…

For on my skin are the bruises of violence
the uninvited hands that forced her to flee
Inside me is the pang of hunger
13 brothers and sisters, dry lands
that drove him across in search of something better
On my skin are twenty years of labor
Stretched skin, the birth of two daughters
and the burn of cleaning products
used to scrub foreign floors
On my brow is the shock of betrayal
hundreds of dollars pocketed by a corrupt lawyer
On me lands the accusatory finger
pointed at them like a gun
On my wrists are the imprints of handcuffs
clutched around him, labeling him a criminal
In my voice is the sound of panic in my sister’s scream
piercing the sterile air
the sound of forced composure in his voice
breaking through her sobs
the sound of an unsympathetic America
that told us to calm down and
please don’t block the hallway
In my eyes is the disorientation of an 18 year old
whose age declared her my new mother, my new father
In my eyes is the weariness of my sister’s
eyes that fell asleep at the wheel
coming home from a third job
In my eyes is the disillusionment
of an American Dream deferred
In my empty hands the frustration of unpaid bills
On my neck is the shadow of his wedding band
that I kept safe
all the time fearful
that it may never be worn around his finger again
In my chest the agony of nightmares
of his dead body lying limp in a ditch
somewhere in the vastness between Mexico and the US
robbed of everything including his breath
In my legs is the feel of lead
worn knees that couldn’t possibly walk for so many miles
In my limbs is the cramp of being smuggled in a stereobox
the trunk of a car
every part of her bent but her spirit
But after four months of their absence
in my hands is are the presence of hers
squeezing mine
telling me things will get better
In my arms the comfort and love of friends
In my chest the rising hope of possibility
In my voice the sound of his unwavering strength
In my brow the determination
of one who has been beaten to the ground and stood back up
In my eyes the knowledge that apathy is not the answer
and the power of living the answer
On my brown skin is engraved the story of two undocumented parents
and the answer to our struggle
an answer of change
change
change that begins with me

So I continue to move forward but that does not mean I do not stumble.

You know you don’t stop being poor when you come to Stanford, if anything you become more aware of it. When on the first day back from summer people down the hall are talking about the great family vacation they had in Europe and you remember the headache you had all summer from cleaning the house and hearing your cousins disrupt any stillness. Then there are the times when friends want to go out to dinner and you realize you have $0.17 in your checking account and your next paycheck isn’t for another week. And then there is the moment you start actually taking care of your health and you realize why you never had health or dental insurance/care to begin with: health is expensive. So now you are stuck with a 300 dollar dental bill and spending 50 or so every week on therapy and antidepressants. As it turns out, sometimes poverty can contribute to mental health issues and you can’t deal with those issues because well you’re poor…. and it doesn’t help when your psychiatrist keeps suggesting that the solution to your nightmares about going home for the break is to take a nice trip to somewhere exotic like Mexico. Sad thing is, some people are under the impression that we are all equal in this beautiful bubble called Stanford. Truth… is inequalities do not disappear on the farm.

So sometimes I get frustrated when we talk about class inequality and racial discrimination, because as it turns out we are talking about someones reality, como mi hermana. I love that for the first time in my life, I have my own room but the contrast to home reminds me that my sister is only one year older then me and I wonder what made the difference. Por que estoy yo aqui y ella casada, con un hijo, y horcandose con biles.

And you’re trapped
I can hear the agony in your screams
concentrated in the stale air
of that apartment
the frustration of raising a child
weren’t you just a child just yesterday?

There is also the smell of bleach that the staff uses to clean our dorms and it makes me nostalgic for my mother and the smell of cooking oil at CoHo nostalgic for my father. I remember watching my father come home from work. He used to walk up the driveway dragging his feet. He’d turn around to lock his car then back down at the ground. I could almost hear the heaviness in his sigh from my window. I remember watching him come home and collapse on the couch exhausted.

And I’ll never forget how much they have sacrificed so I try to hide the festering sore of not wanting to go home.

Mami, papi les tengo que decir algo. Estas vacaciones me voy a quedar en casa de mi amiga. Sabes muy bien que los amo pero no me gusta estar en esa casa, al fin y alcabo que ni hay campo para mi ayi.

And I want to yell what I have kept inside so long
I hate that roach infested house
I hate the filthy walls
the crowded rooms
the lack of breathing space
I hate that I don’t trust my uncles
I hate the memories
of doing my homework in the bathroom
locking my door every night
never having any privacy
not wanting to sit on the toilet seat
having to fight for the dryer
I hate that I was always uncomfortable
I hate that I could never call it home

Ya se pero ya vez tu papa no se quiere ir. Creo que tiene miedo de vivir solo, sin su familia. Que le vamos hacer.

So sometimes the privilege of being at Stanford crashes violently against my stomach and knocks the air right out of me. And sometimes I let my depressive tendency get the best of me and I consider dropping out…. maybe it’s the tragedy I keep looking for. This isn’t a Horatio Alger story, no just a girl trying to be the American Dream and finds herself overwhelmed by the reality of the world she lives in… yes that’s the wonderfully depressing story I am looking for. Truth is sometimes I get jaded, truth is sometimes I struggle, and truth is I am not apologizing for it.

I’m not apologizing but I also know better than to let my disillusionment get the best of me. You see when I was 16 I learned that sometimes life punches you in the face so that you are knocked down for a good couple rounds, but that I help no one by staying down, lying on my back, angry at life. Pues me paro de nuevo pero no me pidas que lo haga en silencio.

To withdraw in resignation
is to accept that there is nothing wrong
To turn away in bitterness
is to allow injustice to dominate
Because of this
I choose
to turn my lamentations
into cries for reform
to turn my fists of anger
into a hand held up in protest
I choose
to continue to fight
I choose
to continue to dream 

so here I stand in my brown skin, still dreaming…

 

I am born of Mexican immigrant parents.
I identify as a Chicana, Latina, feminist, first generation, an ally.
I love the beauty of words and the literature of the Spanish tongue
I believe in the power of advocacy and activism.
I work toward social justice and the celebration of difference.
I strive for never allowing frustration to lend itself to apathy.
I give everything of myself because I care.
I dream, I hope, I live.

“When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
— Audre Lorde

Stanford Class of 2013; Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity; aracely6@stanford.edu

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5 thoughts on “Memories Of My Brown Skin

  1. […] Memories Of My Brown Skin by Aracely Mondragon, ‘13 […]

  2. Anonymous says:

    Aracely this is so beautiful. You are such a strong woman, and should be proud of everything you’ve had to battle to get to where you are today. Stay strong and true till the end.

  3. Arianna Wassmann says:

    Aracely, you are truly amazing. You give a voice to those who cannot speak, or who are afraid to speak, whose secrets silence them. At home, I am surrounded by individuals who try to convince me that race and gender and social class don’t matter, that everyone has an equal chance at success if they are hardworking, that I need to stop acting like the world is full of so much injustice. And when I finally start to feel beaten down and think the world will never change because I am so grossly outnumbered, I read your work and find a glorious ally. Someone who understands what it means to struggle, what it means to be discriminated against, someone who isn’t blind to the injustice of the world and who is beaten down and stands back up to keep fighting. Thank you so much for sharing your work with the world, for expressing your thoughts, your experiences, your story. I am truly inspired and I hope that I can follow in your footsteps and be as strong and vocal as you are.

  4. LGT says:

    Aracely, this is incredible! I also really love this line in your bio: “I strive for never allowing frustration to lend itself to apathy.” This really needs to be a widely understood activist goal.

    • Allie, Kathleen, and Aracely says:

      Thank you! And I agree, we need to find ways not to let anger and disillusion jade us and stagnate progress!

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