‘Te vas a poner prieta.‘ – ‘You’re gonna get dark.’ is the warning told to little girls in DR when they stand in the sun.
‘Prieta‘ is worst than ‘dark’, its closer to the N word if anything, therefore the warning was more of a scare tactic for those that aspired or believe to be White.
And therein lies the lies sold to little girls of certain families.
I write ‘certain’ because the warning is given based on the social-economic status of the family; the little girls of poor families that are not born with fair skin might never be warned of the affects of standing under the sun. It’s as if you’re born in a caste system dictated by how fair your skin is.
I hid from the sun, not because of the change in skin color but because I was a fat child that hated to sweat and so I always walked in the shade. My youngest aunt though loved the sun. Whenever and wherever she heard those words, she turned a deaf ear and laughed in the sunshine.
My grandmother on the other hand would get angry, because my aunt was not born with fair skin. Of the six children she had, three were not fair and that aunt was one of them.
My mother was fair skinned, tall and svelte.
She was very preoccupied with her size, because along with keeping away from the sun, you had to watch your figure.
My mother was lucky, being fair skinned and thin made you favorable in the eyes of your parents and in turn, Dominican society; she bought it.
Her only challenge? maintaining a size 6 body.
That all ended when she died after her 21st birthday, I was a one year old and her little sister was two and that’s when the lesson on the importance of being ‘fair’ began, my grandmother being the teacher.
My grandmother raised me and her youngest together and unlike my aunt, I was fair but I didn’t care because I inherited my mothers preoccupation with weight as a child. The difference? I wasn’t maintaining it, I was neglecting it and my body grew increasingly faster than it should have every year.
I believe my grandmother thought the weight gain to be a phase and that I would lose it ‘cuando t’enamores‘ – ‘when you fall in love’ – YES! The ultimate why all women should be fair and thin!
But I didn’t lose it, I only got fatter… but at least I was fair.
I later learned the why of my ever increasing size, it was the result of being molested when I was eight. I told my grandmother that same day and she confronted the predator, who happened to be a ‘friend of the family’. She believed me.
It just so happens the same happened to my aunt.. another ‘friend of the family’ assaulted her and she told my grandmother as well.. but unlike me, she did not believe her.
My aunt as a child was energetic, ‘rambunctious’ to some. The youngest of six and the one that got away with everything, making her the resentment of her older sisters. Growing up with her, I noticed not many kids befriended her, she was assertive, loud, maybe too loud for some of them. Some even questioned our relation because along with our disparate skin tones, I was seen as the ‘calm to her chaos’.
I think back to all of our shared experiences and she wasn’t treated fairly, now is it because she wasn’t fair? I may never know, but I know it could’ve been different.
Truth remains that the treatment, the words, the language around those that are darker was not kind in my family.
‘La maldad lo puso prieto‘ – ‘Malice turned him dark’ my grandmother would say about her son, my uncle; ‘he wasn’t born that dark’, she would say. He got darker as he aged due to the bad life he chose was her explanation of why one of her children was not fair skinned. We laughed of course, but associating evil with dark skin shouldn’t be the butt of jokes around children, especially if your brother or sister is not fair.
To be fair today is taking on a new definition. Its meaning of ‘being just’ is taking the attention and is at the forefront while the ‘lightness’ of our pigmentation and its fictitious importance is being dismantled. A feat taken on by the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters of those that bought the lies.
My grandmother bought it and sold it to her daughter but that doesn’t mean I have to buy it. Some days I don’t mind standing in the sun despite my grandmothers words. If I hide, it is because I still don’t like to sweat.
My aunt? she continues to laugh in the sunshine.