We moved to Allen from Providence, Rhode Island, in 1979, back when Allen’s population was probably only five or six thousand. My mother, sister and I were three of only a handful of Hispanics when we arrived, which soon became one of the toxic roots of my deeply lacking self-esteem.
I will never forget the day when a gym teacher of mine, “Coach Spann”, made his way to the middle of the floor. As he reached for the mic to call us to attention, a very cruel girl all but leveled me in front of a gymnasium full of my peers during one of my deepest childhood traumas:
Look how Spic and Spann these floors are!
I remember that humiliation, like a million tiny needles stinging my leather brown hands and feet as if it were happening this instant. In my mind, it seemed as though everyone was laughing at me, and all I wanted was to crawl under a rock and die. The funny thing is, at the time I didn’t even know what it meant. “Spic? What’s a spic?” It wasn’t until the friend that was sitting beside me leaned in closely, as if to shelter me from the trauma that I didn’t even realize I was experiencing and asked if I was okay. Why wouldn’t I be okay?
Well, a spic is a Mexican or wetback. She was making fun of you for being so dark.
I don’t remember how I finally made it from the gym floor to the bathroom but do remember staring into the mirror and crying. It was on that day that I began to despise myself and the skin I lived in, and though I did manage to have a handful of truly good friends until graduating high school in 1987 (many of whom after almost 40 years are with me still today), that moment scarred me for years to come.
Thank God for my family back then. At home, I was “safe”, with a roof over my head and my Mom never more than a heartbeat away. Looking back, I can’t remember a moment that she missed. Not one single lunch, class party, field trip or game, and never a “latched door” for us to come home to. From what I could see at that point in my life and for many years to come, my mother would have torn out her own beating heart for the sake of those that she loved despite her outwardly gentle appearance.
Of course, then there was Julie, not only my sister, but one of my truest, lifelong friends. She’s been my rock, my sounding board and one of the only people in this world who has ever truly understood me. So close are we that over the years when I have heard people talking about their “sibling rivalries” I have always been perplexed. Julie is everything that I am not, and together, we make a whole person. She, too, over the years has suffered many of the same prejudices as I, only her much more so, because she has always been so much darker than me. Through it all, though, we have always stuck together and never once in my life has she abandoned me!