When we are born, our names are etched in gold.
They are placed around our necks, clasped and draped against our skin. They become a part of us, an extra appendage of pliable metal, so much so that we forget they are there.
Until they are pointed out in shameful tones.
Then, they are ripped off, hidden away, along with piece of our identity.
When I first moved to Florida, I didn't speak English. I was placed in an ESOL class part-time, was made fun of for my language for the remainder. I didn't realize how red my olive-skinned cheeks could turn. Little by little, I pushed the words I knew and the accent on my tongue to the boxes of the attic in my brain. There they stayed until they were buried in dust. I grew up without them, afraid of releasing them again, only allowing others to hear a whisper of their presence.
On my sixteenth birthday, I received my name again, brazened in cursive and accented with amethyst. I took it out of its box and hid it in another. Our names, once shining and rich in heritage, were ridiculed and stereotyped. They were associated with more grotesque names like 'spic' and 'chonga'. We were no longer beautiful. We were fully colonized and caricatured - taken in but never quite accepted, a running joke of loud voices and aggression and low middle class.
I didn't want that for myself. I wanted to be more. I wanted the world in my palms. I just wanted to be white. I stood up straighter, brushing away the weight of my culture. I perfected my voice, I wore popular clothes, I shamed the music that had been a staple in my home for generations. I never hung around friends that were brown like me. It freed me, but broke me.
There is only so much time that can pass until we need to open the boxes back up. We grow older and wiser. Heartbreak and tragedy shapes us, remolds us anew with what we're already made of. Sometimes, it takes helping others appreciate their color, their voice, the molds that make them, to truly realize what we're worth.
Within the past few years, the pride for my country, my family, my skin came knocking from the attic door. It wasn't sudden. It didn't just move back in, placing its feet up. It brought down each box, unpacking carefully, trying to find where things comfortably fit. By the time I had my daughter, it was moving around what was already there, sharing the space. When the country's hateful voices grew louder and sharper, rusted edges newly polished at our necks, my pride was lived in. It belonged. It made its way home and protected it. It didn't speak for me, but spoke with me. It was no longer something to be feared.
So, I took out my gold armor, my name, my identity, and hung it back around my neck. There it sits, a welcome mat to any that wish to push my pride away. I used to joke it was a reminder in case I forgot my own name, but there is truth in the ridicule. It is a reminder of who I am, what I am, and all that I can become - all the beautiful pieces of my past and present - a compliment of gold on the brown skin I call home.