Julia Alvarez, A White Woman of Color, OCR11.pdf - A White Woman of Color JULIA ALVAREZ rowing up in the Dominican Republic I experienced racism within

Julia Alvarez, A White Woman of Color, OCR11.pdf - A White...

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A White Woman of Color JULIA ALVAREZ Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I experienced racism within my own family-though I didn't think of it as racism. But there was definitely a hierarchy of beauty, which was the main currency in our daughters-only family. It was not until years later, from the vantage point of this country and this education, that I realized that this hierar-chy of beauty was dictated by our coloring. We were a progression of whitening, as if my mother were slowly bleaching the color out of her children. The oldest sister had the darkest coloring, with very curly hair and "coarse" features. She looked the most like Papi's side of the family and was considered the least pretty. I came next, with "good hair," and skin that back then was a deep olive, for I was a tomboy-another dark mark against me-who would not stay out of the sun. The sister right after me had my skin color, but she was a good girl who stayed indoors, so she was much paler, her hair a golden brown. But the pride and joy of the family was the baby. She was the one who made heads turn and strangers approach asking to feel her silken hair. She was white white, an adjective that was repeated in describing her color as if to deepen the shade of white. Her eyes were brown, but her hair was an unaccountable towheaded blond. Because of her coloring, my father was teased that there must have been a German milkman in our neighborhood. How could she be his daughter? It was clear that this youngest child resembled Marni's side of the family. It was Marni's family who were really white. They were white in terms of race, and white also in terms of class. From them came the fine features, the pale skin, the lank hair. Her brothers and uncles went to schools abroad and had important businesses in the country. They also emulated the manners and habits of North Americans. Growing up, I re-member arguments at the supper table on whether or not it was proper to tie one's napkin around one's neck, on how much of one's arm one could properly lay on the table, on whether spaghetti could be eaten with the help of a spoon. My mother, of course, insisted on all the proto-col of knives and forks and on eating a little portion of everything Novelist and poet Julia Alvarez was born in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to the United States at age ten with her parents. Her work includes the novels How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), jYo! (1997), and In the Name of Salome (2000); two books of poems, Homecoming: New and Collected Poems (1996) and The Other Side (1995); and a collection of nonfiction essays, Something to Declare (1998). She teaches literature and creative writing at Middlebury College. This essay appeared in Half and Half: Writers on Growing Up Biracial and Bicultural, edited by Claudine C. O'Hearn (1998).

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