Downtown Magnets High School

Poem: Brown Girl

I’m an American, born of Mexican immigrant parents. All my life, I’ve been too Brown for some and too white for others. The brown-skinned girl with an extensive vocabulary, goals, and dreams, the definition of white. But, it’s never subdued the persistent, underlying fear that my Mexican-ness is an anchor that’ll drag me down, preventing me from finding the American dream because brown was never a color part of the flag. It’s always been red, white, and blue, never brown. 

It was a cloudy night, the day after another breakdown about the stress, school, and work. I’m sitting on a dirty, white, slightly wobbly chair. My family is sitting around the fireplace we collectively purchased from Home Depot. Each, quietly staring deeply into the flickering orangey-red flame before us. 

“Que paso te paso ayer,” my uncle said with his arms crossed, looking down on me. 

I sat there on my chair, elbows on knees, head in hands, trying to find the adequate words to explain yesterday’s events, but I knew that they’d never understand. 

“Estaba estresada,” I pushed out, slightly lifting my gaze.

“Mari, tienes que relajarte,” he said, “no tiene que ser trabajo todo el tiempo.”

A familiar fire ignited within me. How do I tell them that it was supposed to be this way? That this is the only way to achieve success because there was no trust fund, no savings, no money for school. How could I make them understand that I spent so much time studying, working because I had to ensure my grades were impeccable so that NYU offered me a scholarship? But instead of all that, I said, “es que no me entienden.” 

My uncle’s brow furrowed and released instantaneously because he knew I was right. He’d never understand. I was too American and he, too Mexican.

I returned my gaze to the flickering fire, fixating my eyes in it, hoping that it would stop the tears welling up in my eyes. I sat there, cold, reflecting on what had happened. Maybe they didn’t understand this. Maybe they never would. 

I thought back to all the stories about their past that my family has told me that about.  The ones repeated casually at parties or at large family reunions for a brief moment of nostalgia. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one that wanted to pursue her dreams, to succeed. 

They’re people who came into this country in the search of something greater. They escaped their impoverished lives in Tepeitic where they lived in a house that might as well have been made of straw. Where they slept on the floor on raggedy mattresses and eating beans if anything at all.  Each from a family, so poor they had to intermittently starve. They’re from a little pueblo by the mountain where the streets were unpaved made of dirt and stone.

They paved their own path, built their own home. Though they started a humble business it’s given them a good life. One that guarantees food on the table and warm blankets for their children, so they may never suffer from hunger or the cold. They were successful.  They are successful. A gust of cold wind drew my thoughts back to the moment and I looked up. 

They looked at me sympathetically. I realized I was crying the whole time. I guess the attempts at choking back the sob failed miserably. I extended my palms to the fire to warm them and wiped the tears off my face. I cracked a smile because these people, they’ve been through more than I could fathom.

I’d never understood that being a hybrid was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Yes. I’m American. And Yes. I am Mexican. Born of people who pursued their dreams into a foreign, unknown nation. People who managed to succeed in life despite not having faced the same challenges I’ve encountered. Honestly, I’m proud of being a Mexican-American because my being Mexican wasn’t the anchor that I thought it to be. It was the wings that would allow me to show the world how a brown girl, born of immigrant parents succeeds in America.