Mi Negrita

By: Arianne Amparo, 5th Place Division 2

At five years old I believed the sun was poisonous—
Why else would the women in my neighborhood
Carry umbrellas on the clearest of days?
Why else would my mother scold me when I played
In the sunlight instead of staying in the safety of the shade?
At ten years old I noticed there were no dark skinned
Actors in my mother’s beloved telenovelas
None in the Hollywood movies I watched on TV
The message I received in both English and Spanish
Was that no one would want someone who looked like me

At fifteen years old I joined the swim team
Daily practice darkened my skin by three shades
“Mi negrita,” my mother would call me,
“Be careful, you’re getting darker with each passing day”
I could not allow the poisonous sun to tan my already too-dark face
So, after the season ended, I did not return the following year
To swim again would mean I would have to continue to hear
“You should really wear more sunscreen”
“Why are you so black? Mira que morena estas”
“That color doesn’t look good on you, you are too dark”

As though it were my fault I didn’t sunburn like other girls
My fault I took after my father’s darker skin
My fault for being ashamed of my brown color
When all my life my culture and the society I live in
Has told me that light is good—synonymous with all things pure
While the dark expanse of my skin is the color of evil
Dark is the night that we spend our time hiding from
Sinister, murky, full of uncivilized shadows and secrecy
Such absurd meanings were attached to the color of my skin
And I carried them on my back until I could no longer handle their weight

At eighteen years old, I now know it is not the sun that is poisonous
But the words, jokes, insults, stereotypes, and historically ingrained beliefs
About the color of my skin that are toxic and once kept me from thriving
Whether or not the telenovelas think so, or Hollywood thinks so
Or my teammates or my family or my culture think so,
I have realized that my skin and I are nothing short of beautiful
And they will never again succeed in keeping that knowledge from me

About the Poet: I was born in Pomona, California to a family of Mexican immigrants, but grew up in Northern California–namely, the Bay Area and the Central Valley. I developed a passion for writing, art, and politics when I was very young, and I currently spend most of my free time either catching up on current events or reading and writing poetry. I will be entering my first year at UC Berkeley later this fall and plan to major in English, where I hope to continue writing about my experiences as a person of color in present day America.

 

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