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Who We Are
Growing up, accepting who I was was not easy for me. Besides watching telenovelas with my parents, I didn’t see myself represented in the mainstream media. Because of this I never really had someone who looked like me that I looked up to (besides my parents) the way my friends did. Throughout school, I was always made fun of for things I couldn’t control—things like my skin color, my name, and my parents’ inability to speak “proper” English. For a while, I was ashamed to look the way I did, doing all I could to look “normal.” It took me a while to really embrace everything that I was. It wasn’t until I came to college that I truly started embracing who I was.
As a reminder to myself, I wrote a poem for those days when accepting myself still feels hard. But I remember that where I come from and who I come from is nothing to be ashamed of. Be proud of your skin and all your ancestors who came before you. Don’t ever let someone make you feel like you don’t belong.
I clear my web history every week, not because I’m hiding anything filthy, but because erasing parts of my history is something I’ve always wanted to do
I didn’t realize I’ve been erasing parts of me since I was nine, when I transferred to a primarily white school ‘cause it was the closest one to my neighborhood
When I walked into the classroom I was greeted with blue eyes and tired tongues
It took five missed tries for the girl in the blonde pigtails to finally come up to me and ask “so… how do you say your name?” Without hesitation I replied Dolores Scarlett Cortez
She paused and said, “You know that’s really hard to say”
Mind you this is after everyone in the fourth grade could say Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
But being who I am I apologized anyways
It was then when I started letting strangers shave my name to whatever was whiter, I mean easier for them to say
Not realizing that the woman I was named after was being erased and disgraced every time it happened
If you’re listening I am so sorry for being so selfish
I never meant for our name to sound like an apology rather than our identity
Your name was never meant to be pain
It was meant to be stubborn beauty and survival and strength, everything you were and still are, ‘cause you live through mea
And I promise you I’m trying to be the best granddaughter I can be for you and the rest of my ancestors who fought so hard to leave me a legacy to be proud of. I will not have your name sound like white noise any longer.
So the next time someone asks me how u say my name I will answer, you say it with respect
Scarlett Cortez is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.