Mothering While Brown
“You can use my foundation,” I said.
“No, Mommy. I can’t.”
“Because it will be too brown.”
Whoops. For a brief second, I had forgotten.
My oldest and I were out shopping for makeup at the local drugstore. She was attending her first Sweet 16 party and wanted some new lip color. She pointed out a new bug bite that appeared on her face out of nowhere. That’s when I offered foundation to even out the color of her face (who wants a small red puffy bug bite on their cheek?). Because I share all of my makeup with her, it was automatic for me to offer my foundation. I had forgotten.
So, we walked over to the foundation section and looked at the creams. I told her those felt lighter on the skin compared to the liquid.
She pulled one tube out. Pale pinkish.
“That might be too light,” she said. “What do you think, Mama?” She switched her name for me. She’s been doing that lately. Feeling out which one feels best as she outgrows Mommy. Later that night, after the party, in front of her friend, she called me Mom. That felt weird.
I stared at the color in her hand. I couldn’t really see what I was looking at. I’ve never looked in this section of the color spectrum. All I saw was pale pink across the board. I couldn’t see nuances like she did.
She pulled out another tube.
“What about this one?”
I took a deep breath to pull myself together. What was happening? Why couldn’t I see? I forced myself to see.
“Maybe,” I said. She put the tube against the inside of her forearm.
“I don’t know. Will it be too light for my face?” I didn’t have an answer.
“Here,” I said, “Let me compare.” I put both tubes next to her face. “This one looks good. Let’s try it at home and see what happens. It’s the only way to find out.”
I didn’t forget that my daughters are biracial and present as the desired light skinned racially ambiguous person. I had forgotten that I am browner than my kids.
That reminder startled me.
One day, when I was in my twenties, I walked through Washington Square Park in Manhattan. It was sunny, around noon on a weekday. The park was filled with kids and their nannies. Some were on the mini playground, climbing while their nannies watched. Or on the swings getting pushed.
Some women were walking with strollers as their young charges napped. Some were Filipina. Many, if not all, of these nannies were women of color.
That’s when it hit me.
I was hesitating having kids because I didn’t want to be mistaken for the nanny.
This was a complicated feeling.
What was so bad about being a nanny? Nothing. But being mistaken as a nanny for your own children? That’s a whole different matter. The layers of racism and colonized oppression run deep.
I wondered if I was the only one who worried about this.
“You’re so brown, mama.”
My middle daughter has always been the one to point out her what she observes -and her observations have always been astutely advanced for her age. When she was four, I made about comment about her dad (the context of which escapes me now), saying that he was white. To which she replied, “He’s not white. He’s a person.” Indeed.
She was six when she said pointed out the shade of my skin after a day at the beach. This statement about my own skin color, from my own flesh and blood, felt strange: I was glad she saw that I was brown, but also sad because this observation pointed out a difference between us. This was the first time I felt difference from them. It was a kind of separation.
After the Election of 2016, like most people of color, I felt endangered. I was afraid to leave my house.
When the results were officially announced that Wednesday morning, my daughters’ mouths hung open in disbelief over their cereal bowls. Keep in mind that they were young kids: 2nd , 3rd, and 6th grades. They couldn’t believe that this nation would elect a man who grabbed women’s private parts. A man who hated people who were brown. Their next reaction was fear and worry:
“Mommy, is he going to take you away? Are we going to move? We need to move to Canada.”
My youngest was in tears.
I’m sure this scenario didn’t happen in the homes of white folks.
Last weekend, we watched “In the Heights” and there were moments when I got misty-eyed. And other moments when I full-on cried. In that movie, I saw so much of my own growing up in a big Filipino immigrant community. The sense of family, the community, the looking out for each other. The dancing, the celebrations. The food. The music. So familiar.
I cried because I was homesick for a place to which I can never return. Saudade, as the Portuguese and Brazilians call it. But I also cried because this is something my daughters will not experience themselves.
Yes, their experience will be whatever it will be and I do what I can to keep them connected to their heritage, but I mourn the loss of their first-hand connection with a Filipino community. The elders, who have been largely the ones running the community show, have all gotten sick or slow or too old to carry on. And there is no one left with whom to create community (at least where I currently live).
This is what it is to be a daughter of Filipino immigrants with biracial white-presenting daughters. At least for now.
Don’t worry — I’m looking to change that!
This is part of the Maverick Monday series, where I talk about healing trauma (micro and macro) through the lens of a woman writer of color (that’s me!). Each week, I’ll share a personal story from my healing journey in the hopes that others will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone. I hope that by doing this, you can see that YES! healing-true, lasting, deep healing — — IS possible and that you can thrive in your life, living as your most authentic self without shrinking from the world. If you’re interested learning how to do that, check my offerings, from memberships to retreats to coaching, and find what’s right for you! https://suryagian.com/
Originally published at https://www.suryagian.com on June 21, 2021.