The Politics of Pigmentation
By Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez
My mother tells me to get out of the sun. My mother tells me to put on sunblock. My mother tells me to not go to the beach so much. She is not protecting me from skin cancer. She is not telling me to stay out of the sun for a deep concern for my health. My mother does not want me to be too brown.
You see, my mother is from the mountains of Jinotega, in Nicaragua. The mountains-- where the temperature stays at a cool 60 degrees Fahrenheit, foggy, and people often wear sweaters. My mother, like many of her townspeople, is light skinned. But she is not as light skinned as my aunts. The running joke is that-- since she is one of the oldest-- la raza mejoro with every child my grandmother had.
My mother is born of a green-eyed, light brown-haired, light skinned man who was born out of an Afro-Nicaragüense, but we do not talk about that. Everyone just hopes that my grandfather’s light-eyed genes rest in at least one of his grandchildren, since it seems to have skipped two entire generations at this point.
I, however, have my father’s genes. My father’s side of the family is darker. They have black-brown hair, brown skin, and indigenous features. My father is not ashamed of his brown features. Instead, he loves them. He sits in the sun unfettered, while my mother wears a hat, sunglasses, and a long sleeve if she is able. But my dad is a male, and standards of admiration for men stem from their ability to perform manhood. Women, on the other hand, we have to be somebody to someone through our aesthetics, our fragile-- and preferably white(r)-- aesthetics.
My mother tells me to get out of the sun. My mother tells me to put on sunblock. My mother tells me to not go to the beach so much. Because I have my father’s brownness but my mother’s gender, a curse-- I was born female and brown, in a culture that hates females and especially hates the darker ones.
But avoiding the sun feels unnatural and distasteful, knowing full well that the politics of pigmentation have been telling my people that being brown is bad, and getting browner is your own damn fault.
It is also a class thing, despite having grown up poor we do not want to appear like we have worked in fields and sowed our lands, thus exposed to the sun for an untold amount of hours. It is shameful to own your own poverty, and more shameful if your skin begins to tell the tale of your misfortune.
My mother tells me to get out of the sun. My mother tells me to put on sunblock. My mother tells me to not go to the beach so much. My mother tells that I am becoming negra, with rechaso in her tone.
But I cannot undo the fact that my skin absorbs the sun rays like magic. My skin turns that vitamin D into nutrients, and it makes my skin glow. You ask me what color my skin tone is and I will tell you: it is Mayan gold.
I do not burn with the sun; I evolve right before your very eyes. My brown skin is beautiful and in the winter it becomes a lighter shade and in the summer it darkens. I have to change my makeup with the seasons to match my skin tone, because my skin is supernatural.
I love my brown skin, but it has taken years to realize that and to undo the years of the sun-avoidance dance that many of us darker Latinxs are told to do.
My mother tells me to get out of the sun. My mother tells me to put on sunblock. My mother tells me to not go to the beach so much. And I understand what she is doing, I understand what the context of her life has taught her about brownness, but I respectfully decline to let the color of my skin and my gender, make me hide under gorros. I refuse to incomodarme for a culture that breeds colorism. Instead I wear my tiniest bikini and I go to the beach, put on sunblock to protect this beautiful brown skin I have been blessed with, and watch magic happen.
Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez is a chonga Mujerista from Managua, Nicaragua currently living in Miami, FL. She recently graduated with her Masters from Vanderbilt University, and is looking to take some much needed time off to refresh. She is also the founder of Latina Rebels, a blogger for HuffPo Latino Voices, and a columnist/editor at Chica Magazine. Her interests are within biopolitics as it relates to Latina embodiment, specifically concerning models of conquerable flesh around narratives of naturalization for women of color. Thus her work is around reclaiming and upholding embodied resistance, particularly within chonga and chola subcultures. Que viva la mujer!