Jessica Rabbit famously said, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. While I don’t know how Jessica Rabbit would draw herself, it’s been a quote that’s stuck in my head lately, mainly because it captures what it can feel like to be a non-white person in America sometimes. Specifically, my own experience as a visibly brown lady means I’ve got a love-hate relationship with my skin, because I feel like I have to explain like Jessica Rabbit, that I’m not a bad person.
Part of what makes stereotypes so difficult to fight against is that some of them will ring true if you grow up in that culture. To the extent that I want to discuss it, it’s that I always felt like it didn’t fit me, because I wanted to assimilate and blend in when I was younger. It’s not something I’m proud of today, but growing up Latina in the ’90s meant that to the extent I could, I wanted to hide everything about me that I see now and appreciate as part of the physical body I am grateful to be in today. I knew I’d never get into college if I accepted that all society wanted of me was to be birthing children at the age of 16. I recall my doctor telling me at 20, that I better get on with having kids if I wanted to keep up with my family members. I don’t think that she’d have said something like that to me if I was from any other race but one which happens to have a reputation for its fecundity.
I imagine every single person alive comes from a culture that has certain ingrained ideas about other cultures. I know that Latinos are known for being the type to be popping kids out like rabbits, and the only reason I feel ok saying that is I happen to be Latina, and one who’s tired of having to explain to America why I would like to be seen as just an American, thanks. I can’t, though, because folks will still ask, “But where’s your family originally from?” and having to explain, yet again, how I’m a native Californian, and when pressed further about it, that simply meant “Mexico” but also so much more than that because once upon a time, California was Mexico, and this tends to shock those who aren’t native Californians. And then I have to put up with being told something along the lines that I’m one of the “good ones” because I made it out of the barrio. Every time it gets brought up, though, it pains me because it makes me have to stroll back down memory lane, and I’d rather just be seen as the person I am in my eyes, before I thought I had to prove myself instead of just be myself.
Even though I can’t escape what I look like to others, I’m hoping that they see me for the qualities that matter: my character, my personality, my intellect. It’s hard to know whether I’ve accomplished that goal, but I feel like it’s worth it to try to convey that who I am is more than what’s seen. Artists like Prince are so inspiring, because they give the hope to the rest of us that it’s possible to be appreciated for who we are on the inside, even when it feels like we cannot escape that our reality is shaped by our physical embodiment.