This Book I’m Reading…

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I’m reading Chika Unigwe’s book, On Black Sisters Street. I chose it out of a running list of books written from perspectives other than the dominant Western books we are used to reading in school. I chose this book out of the long list because I believed that I would develop a deeper understanding of what it was like to go to Europe with nothing and become a prostitute. So many people look down on prostitutes and see them as inferior, but I have heard so many stories of these people joining the industry because they are just trying to make enough money to survive.

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because Chika Unigwe is an incredible woman with so much to say. She was a 2008 UNESCO-Aschberg fellow and a 2009 Rockefeller Foundation fellow. She has a PhD from the University of Leiden and is the recipient of many awards for her amazing writing. She isn’t afraid to tell the story of people who have left her country to try to make a life in Europe.

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because I want to know more. I don’t want to continue to be ignorant. I want to learn more about people who are considered to be different than me. I want to read about them just to find out that we are more alike than I’ve been taught. I know I am only getting a small piece of what it was like, but I want to learn all I can. I want to develop my understanding and knowledge on the lives of others.

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because I believe getting to know the people around you is more important than keeping your secrets. I believe in getting to know people well, instead of just grazing the surface. People should make an effort to get to know each other and make connections. To find similarities and appreciate the differences. Diversity should be celebrated, not oppressed. Diversity in each person should be been seen as beautiful and appreciated by every person that comes to contact with each other.

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because I believe that black lives matter. I believe that women have the right to choose what they want to do with their bodies. Just because someone gets paid to have sex, does not mean that they deserve to be looked down on. There is so much more to a person than their career or who they choose to have sex with. We are more than what we choose to do in the bedroom and who we choose to do it with. Sexuality should be celebrated and appreciated. Women should not be put down because they are sexual beings. Women should not be called sluts for having sex, when men are praised and applauded.

In Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TedTalk We Should All Be Feminists, she talks about the different goals that society sets for men and women:

“A Nigerian acquaintance once asked me if I was worried that men would be intimidated by me. I was not worried at all. In fact it had not occurred to me to be worried because a man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in. But still I was really struck by this. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?”

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because I hope that women are seen for who they are, rather than who they sleep with. Women who use their bodies for sex should not be seen as dirty or disposable. They should not be told that they are not worthy of respect or dignity. I want to see a world that respects all people, regardless of their gender, race, identity, career, ethnicity, or disability. I want the rights of women who choose to explore their sexuality to be respected. If a woman wants to sell their bodies for sex, they should not be told that they are inferior or disgusting. Women who are just trying to send money home to support their families should not be slut shamed by society. The women in the book see prostitution as a career choice. Due to this being a career, “they offer their bodies to strangers but their hearts to none.”

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Colorism: Interview Project

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COLORISM

This interview was conducted by Madison Spiegel. This interview took place on March 7, 2017 in Orange, CA. We conducted the interview in my room of our two bedroom apartment. Leslie and I met at Chapman University and quickly developed a close friendship because of our shared connection to the University. Leslie recently graduated from Chapman University with a double major in Spanish and Political Science. She worked for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico over summer and currently works for the FDA. Leslie is extremely smart and has found herself holding high positions within the government at a very young age. She is very passionate about the work that she currently does and places a huge emphasis on having a positive impact on the world. Leslie is one of my closest friends and has continued to surprise me with stories about being abroad and working a government job.

Leslie is exactly 5 foot, with brown eyes and dark hair. Her both of her parents are from Mexico, which makes Leslie a first generation American. In Mexico, the racial breakdown is 62% mestizo, 21% predominantly Amerindian,  7% Amerindian, and 10% other (mostly European). Leslie was born in America, but has experienced discrimination in Mexico for her dark skin. Leslie was chosen because she has a unique perspective on how people view wealthy Mexican Americans and how Colorism affects how Mexicans with darker skin are treated in Mexico.

 

Madi: Tell me a bit about yourself.

Leslie: My name is Leslie, I am 21 years old. I am from Oceanside, California, San Diego, and I just graduated college.

Madi: What was the first language that you spoke?

Leslie: Probably … I feel like it was Spanish, but the first language I remember learning is English.

Madi: What is the educational background of your parents?

Leslie: My dad has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and my mom has a bachelor’s degree in marine biology.

Madi: Oh, that’s cool.

Leslie: And she cuts hair.

Madi: You told me how you were, like, basically, Americanized you’re said thattyou were whitewashed. (laughs)

Leslie: Yeah, I would definitely say I am whitewashed. I grew up … If you compare me, like, to all the other Mexican, like, just Mexican Americans in the country, this is, like, not relevant now, but, like, my family was always on, like, the higher end of income, just like upper middle. And so, I always went … I lived in the white neighborhood in the white gated community. I went to the white schools. All my friends were white. Every sport I did everybody was white… It was, like, I only … was always the only Mexican in my class. So, I think people would say, like, I’m whitewashed. Like, they’ll be, like, “Oh, but you’re different because your parents are educated.”

Madi: Okay.

Leslie: “You’re different because … although you’re not, you’re not a real Mexican because your parents are educated, or because you live in a house, or because your parents aren’t illegal, or because …” stuff like that.

Madi: And do you agree with that? That people would you call that and say that you weren’t really Mexican because of those reasons?

Leslie: I wouldn’t say that I’m not Mexican. It has nothing to do with income or economic or education level or anything. I would, I would still consider myself Mexican, like, but I know other people will say … Even my cousins, even people in my family, “But, like, yeah, but you’re a whitewashed.”

Madi: What generation American are you? I’m first, I think.

Leslie: First. My, my mom is from Mexico.

Madi: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Leslie: My mom was born was in Mexico well both of my parents were born in Mexico, so first.

Madi: Well, you talk a lot about schooling, like, in how you’ve always been around white people. I mean, Chapman is no different, right?

Leslie: No.I would have been more … It is, it’s more uncomfortable for me now that I’m going to Santa, Santa Ana to do my two classes than it is at Chapman. Like, it was like, I walked into the classroom and I thought it was weird. I’ve never in my life had that many, like, Mexican people in a class ever.

Madi: And why do you think that? Do you think it’s because you are so “whitewashed” that you’re, like, uncomfortable in that situation? Or you think that people think of you differently because, like, you know …

Leslie: I think …

Madi: … that you went to Chapman, or …

Leslie: No. Well, like, even I told you before, like, walking in … Like, I knew I was gonna look different. Like, I was wearing … I think I was wearing Hunter rain boots the first day, I was wearing a North Face, I had an Erin Condren planner and my MacBook. Just the Erin, like, that’s different. You … People who go to Santa Ana don’t pay $70 for an Erin Condren planner.

Madi: Mm-hmm.

Leslie: Like, it’s just … They don’t. But you go to Chapman and, like, every single girl will have one.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: It’s, like, I knew, I already knew, like, that was … like, that made me feel uncomfortable.

Madi: Okay. So, we talked about you wanting to be a diplomat. Do you mind talking about that a little bit more, just, like, explaining what exactly it is you wanna do?

Leslie: I just…I like traveling, I like different cultures. I like learning about different cultures. When I was in Mexico, like, I did, like, go around all these different places and I go to orphanages. And, like, different things where I got to know my culture a lot more than I, I ever did at home, just because, like, my dad’s family so, like, obnoxious with everything.

Madi: Yeah. And did you feel closer?

Leslie: I felt closer because I got to go to all these places and, like, see … Because, like, my dad is, like, I don’t fit in. My skin is, like, 10 times darker than there’s is. Like, my family, 90 … My dad doesn’t even have, like, brown eye. My dad’s, like, green eyes. Like, my whole family has, like, green eyes, like blonde hair, like, white skin. I have, like, 20 redheads in my family, so like, I never really fit in. And it was cool to, like, actually go to Mexico and, like, see actual Mexico and, like, learn about the culture.So, I just like learning about culture, I like traveling, and I wanna work in American government and just government. Like, in Mexico we worked with, like, corruption and, like, just, like, youth development and, like, youth in sports and, like, the embassy would plan all these events so, like, the kids could get, like, free swimming classes and, like, free, I don’t know. It was just, like, more, like …

Madi: Well you were helping.

Leslie: You are helping, instead of, like …

Madi: (Laughs) Yeah.

Leslie: … for regulating. Like, here, I’m regulating.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: There, I was, like, actually doing something where it was, like, affecting really kind of having an influence on people’s lives.

Madi: Have you ever heard of colorism? I just thought about this, like, as you were saying it.

Leslie: Colorism? No.

Madi: It’s basically, like what you feel with your family. Like, you kind of experience prejudices from your family because your skin is darker.

Leslie: Like how my grandma doesn’t like me?

Madi: Yeah. I just looked it up. It says basically prejudice or discrimination against individuals with dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial groups.

Leslie: Oh, Mexico is all over the place. Examples, Mexico. I was there for, like, two months. Like, I was working for the embassy so, obviously, they’re having like had me in really nice housing. Like, I was living in the nicest, like, area in Mexico so it wasn’t gonna get nicer than that and, like, I think that Mexico, that’s just the way it is. Like, the whiter you are, the richer you are. It’s just, like, that’s just their social pyramid structure, class structure. Um, so, I was living in this place and, like, people, like, never thought that I was working at the embassy. Like, I remember I was in an apartment and, like, I don’t know what the gatekeeper thought I was doing at the apartment. Like i think he thought I was walking the dog or something. But, like, no, I was, like, working at the embassy. Like, he asked me what I was doing, like, because I was staying in the apartment ’cause somebody else was on vacation, so I got to stay in their apartment while they were gone to, like, take care of the dog, to walk it. So like, for some reason, he thought that I was just walking the goddamn dog. But I wasn’t. I was living there and, like, I was working at the embassy and he had no idea. He thought they hired me to walk the dog. That’s just the way they think. They’re, like, “Oh, she can’t possibly be …”

Madi: It’s the social norm.

Leslie: “… be working at the American embassy because she’s Mexican. Like, she’s must be walking the dog.”

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: And it’s, like, and then, one day, I, like, walked out of my suit and he was, like, “Wait, like, what do you …” I’m, like, I work at the embassy, just like everybody else in this building.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: He was, like, “What?”

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: Like, “What is, like, what? I didn’t know that.” They’re, like, “I thought you were just walking the dog.” At a restaurant, um, like, right across through my house, I went to the restaurant and I was trying to get a table and I was waiting for John. Um, so I was, like, trying to get a table ’cause I got there first and they completely ignored me, like, straight up ignored me. I was, like, “Hey, can I get a table?” And he just, like, walked around me, like, passed me. It was like a nice, like, expensive restaurant. John shows up, we start talking to each other and, obviously, we’re talking, like, speaking in English. We got a table in, like, a second.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: And they, like, apologized, they said, “Sorry for waiting” and, like, all the crap. So, like, once they realized that, like, I don’t know, they just, like …

Madi: You were with someone white?

Leslie: … With someone white. It’s like the service just got so much better. And once they heard me, like, that I must be American or something ’cause I’m, I’m speaking English and just the service got so much better. And then, they sat you down real quick. But when I tried doing it by myself, like, it didn’t work. People who were my skin color were like the maids and the nannies and like the … Also, did you know that in Mexico they for- their nanny, you have to wear, this outfit? You can’t, like nanny, like …

Madi: Like a universal outfit?

Leslie: It’s, like, a white, yeah, it’s, like, they sell it if you go to a store like Wal-Mart. You’ll see them at the mall and, like, there will be the white mom and, like, the the nanny, like, behind her with a stroller pushing, like, with their little outfit, which I think is so degrading.

Madi: Yeah, it’s terrible.

Leslie: I think that’s so terrible. Like, I don’t know why anybody would force, like, I would never, ever force my nanny, even if I had one to wear one.

Madi: They have to do that? Yeah.

Leslie: That’s so degrading.

Madi: That’s interesting, though.

Leslie: And you just see them, like, pushing around in the store with their big strollers, like, carrying all the bags, like, treat them like shit. Like, if they’re eating and, I’ve seen them eat at, like, a restaurant and they’ll be at another table, like, not with them. No, it’s this is like, a true, like, this happened.

Madi: Do you wanna talk about your Staples incident, my favorite story? (laughs)

Leslie: Ugh, Staples incident. So, I went to Staples because I needed to buy some folders. So, I walk into Staples. Actually, I was not even wa- I’m not even inside the store yet. I never even made it completely … Oh, no, I guess I did ’cause I did buy my folders and stuff after. But, like, you know, when you get your cart when you’re outside?

Madi: Mm-hmm.

Leslie: Like, I put the cart out …

Madi: Okay.

Leslie: … and this man pulls a car out too, like, right after me.

Madi: Okay.

Leslie: I’m going my dandy way, like, going inside the store and he’s mumbling behind me about something about how I can’t, like, drive a cart, like a push a cart because I’m Mexican. So, he was, like, “This fucking Mexican can’t, like, push a cart,” where, like, I was doing nothing wrong. I was literally pushing the cart, like, into the store. Right. When you walk through those, like, doors, that, like, open …

Madi: Mm-hmm.

Leslie: … and there was, like, another set of doors?

Madi: Mm-hmm.

Leslie: So, like, I was in the middle of that and he kept mumbling at me that I didn’t know how to push a cart were, like, obviously, I got it from the parking lot to the store so, obviously, I can do something. And, um, and I was, like, “What?” Like, I stare at him, like, “What? Like, do you have anything to say to me? Like, anything? Like, say it now. Don’t, like, mumble, and just say it loud?” And then he go- and then, I’m, like, “What did you say about me, me Mexican, like, not being able to push a cart, which I think has nothing to do with it?” And then, he was, like, so he starts yelling at me because I … This was also, by the way, the day after Donald Trump got elected so, like …

Madi: Oh, wow.

Leslie: … every, like, racist person is, like, up on their high horse today just because they just won the battle of their lives.

Madi: (Laughs)

Leslie: Um, so … (Laughs) And I’m, like, “Yes, what do you need to say to me? Like, just say it to my face. Like, let’s go. Like, I’m ready.” And then he starts yelling at me. He calls me illegal. He calls me Mex- he called me “a fucking stupid Mexican,” I think, were the words. I don’t remember. Something like that. And then, he starts yelling at me because I took his job. I, me, took his job. I mean you couldn’t even do my job even if I gave it you.

Madi: (Laughs)

Leslie: Even if I gave you my job, and I had just gotten that morning. I actually signed my package with the FDA.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: Like, I actually accepted my offer to the FDA. So, like, can he work at the FDA? Like, probably not. So he’s, like, yelling at me, telling me how I took his job, how I’m not educated, how my parents, apparently, are affecting him, um, which they’re not. My mom owns businesses. My parents have paid taxes. My parents have never relied on the government. So how are my parents are hurting him, I don’t know.

Madi: The world will never know.

Leslie: The world will never know. My parents didn’t come to the US illegally. My mom came on a student visa and my dad got a work vis- Like, my dad got hired from Mexico to come work in the US for, like, a Golf company. And then, the manager kicked him out, and then, I got to buy my folders.

I followed up with Leslie and asked her a couple questions to wrap up our interview a week or so later: 

Madi: Do you think the experience you had at the restaurant was also caused by your gender?

Leslie: No, I don’t. Like it was not a matter of gender, I think it was irrelevant to the situation. It had everything to do with skin color.

Madi: What is one thing you wish you could say to the people who didn’t take the time to get to know you?

Leslie: I don’t know if there is anything I would like to say because its like, kind of an accepted social norm. I knew that people would treat me the way that they did, so I wasn’t like angry or anything. In the cases I experienced in Mexico like everyone ended up finding out that I was an American. Like an American white boy showed up and was like obviously there to eat with me. Like they like figured it out and clearly realized that they were wrong about me. I guess if I were like to have to go back and like say something, I would have commented on their clear discrimination towards me, but it is the social norm. It’s like something that people just do without realizing. I don’t think a comment was necessary because like they figured it out and like knew that they were wrong about their assumptions about me. I think the best way to change what they think is by proving them wrong and like challenging the social norm. Showing them that I am successful even though I am darker-skinned is the best revenge.

For more information on Colorism and the Racial Breakdown click links.