My blood is like a very dense cocktail! Black, Native Brazilian, Italian, Lebanese, Spanish. And it makes me a genuine Brazilian person: a vibrant mixture of cultures spiced up with a hint of cachaça and dendê. I didn’t get all of my father’s family melanin, so, in Brazil, my documents state that I am white. But that changed…
In 2015, I moved to the United States and here I am a non-white person. I believe it’s awesome. We are all equal, so, whatever, right? Kind of… many people don’t agree with me. I don’t live in Alice’s Wonderland, so this change had profound impacts. For more than 30 years, I was a white female fighting for gender equality. Now, I am a non-white female fighting for equality in a whole new level… a very hard-core one! It’s intense! It’s scary!
I love being who I am, I love all the mixture of my blood, regardless of what a document says. But, after I started being “classified” officially as a minority, it was really shocking to feel in my own skin the meaning of that, the pain and the struggle. I’ve always been very vocal against racism, sexism, homophobia and, in fact, I was a minority in Brazil. A white person from the ghetto of São Paulo. But, seriously… it was much easier to be a minority then because I was “unidentifiable”. People wouldn’t guess that I was from a poor neighborhood only by looking at me.
Now I can be easily identified as a non-white, non-American, and I feel bad that I really took for granted the impact of this “small” change. Most forms put me under the “Latina” label and I am still trying to understand if I am a Latina or not (because I am from a Portuguese-speaking country, not Spanish-speaking). And then weird things happen… from comments to looks, laughs, aggression, harassment, abuse. It’s so brutal!
When you are “identifiable” as a non-white (Latin, Black, Native-American, Indian, Asian), often times you don’t have to tell your story: a racist person will guess it by your look, accent and their own distorted stereotypical points of view. I can’t stop thinking about how hard it is to be a black woman… If I feel so poisoned by prejudice (sometimes harsh, others really subtly) and the lack of empathy, I can’t really imagine how complicated it is to be a black person, women of color.
Don’t get me wrong! I love living here! My life is much better than it was in Brazil. The difference is abysmal. But this situation has been in my head for a while and I thought it would be valuable to share it since there are many fellow immigrants who might feel the same way.
This extreme change in perspective has been a great experience overall and has made me feel the urge to fight even more for equality, to value the fight of moments like Black Lives Matter and to be really careful supporting the cause, alongside with the immigration causes. Sometimes I do cry when with people catcalling in broken Spanish while I am grocery shopping or when they assume my native language is Spanish, but I fight for my space and I never stop trying to make those nut-jobs understand their mistake. It’s essential for us, immigrants, to support the people of color without patronizing them, without taking their place of speech. Anyway, I guess it’s more than important for us, minorities, to support each other and fight together for justice, peace and equality.
Under the skin, we are all the same. I love my race, I love my color and I wish you also love yours. Then we can fight together and spread the love.
By Mariana Paes, journalist, equality and diversity advocate, multi-platform artist, and sailor, founder of The SailHer Project. A Brazilian fighting for justice and equality in the US.