Growing up in a place like Arizona will leave you marked for life if you are a person of color. I knew I was not White, I was reminded of it day in and day out. When I was younger I did not understand why my skin color mattered. I mean, I had an idea but it just didn’t make sense to me. However, as I grew older it became clearer and clearer that places like Arizona are not “meant” for people like me. As a woman born to Mexican-immigrant parents in an anti-immigrant context I was perpetually viewed as a foreigner, eternally scrutinized when I did not fit neatly into what people expect from “dirty, illegal Mexicans.” However, being a woman of color in a place like Arizona came loaded with several connotations, especially when it came to my sexuality.
As a young woman reaching sexually maturity I quickly learned that dating would be problematic. I wanted guys to see me as a person, to see what I had to offer. However, it quickly became obvious how some view women like me, especially White men. Men would throw “compliments” at me that seemed strange at the time. Exotic, dark, mysterious, feisty, sexy. I knew women were oft viewed superficially but hearing words such as these confused me. Why was I exotic? Because of the color of my skin? Because of my eyes? Because of my hair? Because of my body? How could it be that the very same things that I had been made to feel shame for be the same things that made me desirable to men? It made no sense but at the same time it made all the sense in the world. My “exoticness” did not fit the conventionally lauded standards of beauty: light skinned, blue eyes, blonde hair, thin. It was this “otherness” that made me desirable.
Just like the forbidden fruit is said to taste that much sweeter, my “otherness” made me that much coveted. This “otherness” was a double edged sword, however. While I was desired for my exoticness, I was also derided for it. Easy, promiscuous, slut, whore, puta. This otherness also signaled to others that I was a jezebel, a sexually charged “sexy Latina” begging to be pillaged and conquered. This meant that I did not deserve respect, I only had my sexuality to offer and I was willing to give it away at a moment’s notice. I was willing to open my legs to anyone and everyone to tie men down with a kid, as assured by the parents of the White men I have dated. “You’re dating a Mexican girl? You better be careful, you know girls like her are only looking to tie you down with a million kids.” I was willing to open my legs to anyone and everyone but liked to play coy, as assured by those who have sexually assaulted me. “You know you want this dick in you, stop acting like you don’t.” I was not a proper young woman; I was a jezebel who knew what she was doing and did so gladly.
Although I am now older and recognize the structures and factors at play that shaped my sexuality growing up, the effects of my experiences remain extremely salient for me. I know now that my position as a woman of color from a working class background, and the subsequent intersections of these different identities, have dictated my experiences and opportunities and will continue to do so. Even though I have been in a long term relationship with a White man, and whom I love dearly, the things I have experienced continue to make me uneasy. Does he love me for me? Or does he see me as something exotic he has conquered? When I think about forming a family, I fear for the daughter I may have one day. Will her experiences be similar to mine? How can I protect her? Will I even be able to? These are questions I cannot yet answer but reflecting on my own life I dread the answers I may one day receive.