Michigan in Color: This is not a sob story

Courtesy of Gaby Vasquez

By Gaby Vasquez, Managing Design Editor
Published February 7, 2014

This isn’t a sob story.

When I was seventeen, some boy at a party said he found me “exotic,” but I didn’t understand the meaning behind his sleazy words. I blushed, naïvely.

When I was fifteen, when I was out shopping with a friend, we were speaking Spanish to each other as we always did. Someone walked past us and sneered, “This is America! Speak English!” I didn’t understand that this would not be the last time I heard this malicious jeer, so I laughed it off.

When I was in middle school, I overheard a customer in Macy’s being rude to a sales lady whose first language was clearly not English. I wondered if I should offer my help to translate. I didn’t understand why seeing her struggle to help this woman embarrassed me, so I walked away.

When I first started high school, a nice-looking boy would ask me to say things in Spanish to him. I didn't understand the look in his eyes, so I would giggle stupidly and oblige. When I was twelve, a classmate made a joke about not being able to understand my mother’s thick accent. I did not understand why I felt a surge of anger towards my mom, so I turned away.

This all happened in the suburbs of South Florida, where being Latin@ and speaking Spanish is more common than not.

When I was a freshman in college, I heard for the first (but not last) time: “So, do you, like, speak Mexican?” I was beginning to understand.

Last semester, another boy at another party talked about how “exotic” I looked, and how “sexy” it was that I was Venezuelan. This time, I did not blush.

At work, someone casually referred to me as a “token Latina” — a box they could check off for diversity. I did not laugh it off.

When I go home for breaks and I overhear a customer speaking rudely to a sales lady whose first language is not English, I do not walk away.

When someone tells me I “must be Mexican,” and, in response to my assertion that I am Venezuelan, says, “Whatever, you're all the same thing anyway,” I do not stay silent.

When I tell someone that I am Venezuelan and they respond, “Oh, so that’s why you got in here,” I no longer hesitate to defend myself.

When I mentioned my desire to write for Michigan in Color, and a friend replied with, “But, why? You’re not a person of color.” I told them, “Because of people who think like you.”

This is not a sob story.

Growing up in a predominantly Latin@ area, I was privileged. I had a community of people who I shared a language and a culture with. I still experienced moments of discrimination and marginalization. But, they are not part of a sob story.

And this is not a sob story of any kind. This is my story. This is the story of countless of other students on campus, of others around the world. My story is not to be compared to others', but to be examined as part of a whole.

We do not speak out so that you will feel bad for what we have “gone through.”

We speak out so that you will understand.

Diversity is not a box you can check off.

A person’s ethnicity is not something to be sexualized or fetishized.

A person’s background is not a joke for you to make.

This is not a sob story.

This is my story.

There was a point where I wondered if it’d be easier to reject this part of myself, to deny being anything other than American, to hide what I was once proud of.

It’s not easy to accept and embrace my identity as a woman of color at a university that lacks the community I had at home; especially when, even in that community, I am still attacked by the ignorance of others.

I am learning, though. I am learning to embrace, not reject. I am learning to defend myself, to educate, to have an active voice when I am put down because of where I was born. I am learning to say, “I am Latina. I am a woman of color. I have experienced many negative things because of this. But, this is not a sob story.”

This is a place for me to take a step forward, to actively accept myself as a woman of color, and to begin to feel comfortable as one.

This is a place for me to educate, to inform.

This is not a sob story.

Just a true one.

Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail michiganincolor@umich.edu.