Posted on April 17, 2020

I’m Darker Than My Daughter. Here’s Why It Matters.

Norma Newton, New York Times, April 15, 2020

Our bedtime routine that night started off like so many others, harried but mostly sweet. After making our way through brushing teeth and getting into pajamas, my daughter and I lay down on her bedroom floor to sing songs, the final step before crawling into bed.

When I tried to curl up next to my 4-year-old, though, I sensed her hesitation. She wiggled her little body away from mine each time I inched closer. “Do you not want mommy close to you, sweetie?” I asked, assuming she was initiating a game to extend our nighttime ritual. Her light-brown eyes locked in on me as she brushed her honey-colored locks aside with her hand.

In a casual on-the-edge-of-sleep voice she cooed, “Your skin is dark. I don’t want you to touch me.”

My brown Indigenous Latina body stiffened; I labored to breathe, outraged and confused. She rendered me speechless.

Did my daughter think I would contaminate her pinkish, almost golden skin? Had she already begun to decode what our culture adores and what it abhors? Had I unknowingly conveyed negative views of brownness, causing her to absorb them? Did she intuit my lifelong ambivalence about my skin color?


“What’s wrong with my skin color, honey?” My hue is raw almond-like in the winter, darkening to an unpeeled macadamia nut shade by summer’s end.

“It’s ugly,” she blurted.

What spilled from my mouth next was false, though I wished it wasn’t: “I love the color of my skin.” I desperately wanted her to believe me, and maybe even a little more than that, I wanted to believe myself. Yet having been silenced by laughter and left alone to process years of slights, by both white and Latinx individuals because of my color, I was submerged in shame.

The truth is: I have a fraught relationship with my brownness. Tortured, actually. Some days I take pride in being brown for the rich history it reveals. The story of my Purépecha ancestors’ creativity, strength and resilience, my skin color is testimony of a legacy that not even Spanish colonialism could entirely erase.

Other days, I wish I could walk through the world carefree, without being dismissed as hired help by white mothers, or receiving suspicious glances by these women as I leave the park with my too-light-to-possibly-be-mine child. Love, hate. Sometimes something in between.


I figured the unexamined nuances of my relationship with my melanin would be lost on her, so I kept my words simple and held back my tears. “What skin color do you think is beautiful?” Without pause, she chirped, “White! Like daddy’s belly.” She coveted the whitest part of his body, the color furthest from mine.

I repeated, “I love my skin color.” She said nothing. Her silence felt equal parts dismissive and contemplative. {snip}

Was I the only brown mother being shunned by her light-skinned preschooler?


Since that night, I’ve reached for positive examples of dark-skinned people in books, art and history, collecting in my home and heart reflections of brown beauty, brown greatness, to share with my daughter. {snip}