Being White & Looking for a Brown Doll

When I came across Michelle's blog, Simply Complicated, I was  stoked to read about another American - Guatemalan couple... who lives in Guatemala! Makes for a fun, new perspective on life together. Even better, I got to meet Michelle in person at this year's CCDA Conference. She is the first Twitter/blog friend I've met in real life, and it was such a treat! I am delighted to call her a friend and hope you enjoy this thoughtful guest post from her today. 

Last month I was visiting the States and my sister-in-law asked if I could look for a soft, cuddly doll for her 9-month-old daughter, my niece. I googled “dolls for babies” and about eight different blond haired, blue eyed dolls popped up on my screen. But my niece is Guatemalan. She has milk chocolate skin and dark brown eyes and jet-black hair that barely fits into two little pigtails. I wanted to buy a doll that looked like her. I wanted to find a cute, brown doll, but I couldn’t find one.

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I have lived in Guatemala for the past two and a half years. And I am often surprised that in a country where the majority of the people have brown skin and dark hair, what is seen on billboards and commercials are light skinned, almost white women.  Like many developing countries that don’t always have access to education and clean water, most people in Guatemala do have access to television. A community may not have a library, but they’ll have an Internet café with access to YouTube and Facebook. And therefore Hollywood’s message comes in loud and clear. White is still the standard of beauty.

But it makes me ask…What does it mean to grow up and not see people who look like you on billboards? Or in the movies? What does it feel like to play with dolls that don’t in any way resemble you? I realize this is changing and has changed dramatically over the past 10 years in the US. But we still have a long way to go.

Since moving to Guatemala and being married to a Guatemalan, I am more and more aware of my whiteness. I am white. And the truth is by nothing more that my genetic makeup, I am afforded certain privileges that often brown kids or black kids may not have. I can see people in magazines and on TV that look like me. I can read books by authors who are white and have a white perspective on the world. I can go to the store and by Band-Aids in “nude” color and expect that they will match my skin tone. And when I was little I could play with Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbie dolls that looked just like me.

But I don’t think all kids have the same privilege.

One of my favorite books on this topic is Being White by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp. In reviewing the book, Glen Kehrein commented that: 

"It has been said that white people are no more conscious of white privilege than fish are conscious of water. It just is! Like fish, we swim in privilege, take it for granted and live in denial of our racial legacy. Being White will help the reader understand the nature of this water and its impact upon us.”
And it’s true. For most of my life has I have swam in privilege. Because like Glen said, it just is. I didn’t know anything different. My whiteness cannot change, but my perspective can.

My husband and I do not have kids yet, but we hope to one day. I sometimes wonder as a biracial, bicultural couple, what will are kids look like? Will they see people who look like them in movies, on billboards and in magazines? Will they be able to find dolls or action figures that reflect what they look like? I hope so.

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I ended up buying my niece the cute, soft white doll with stripped pink pajamas. And of course she liked it. She’s only 9-months-old. But it left me wondering, what messages get communicated to little girls like her? And I have a feeling in a few years, I could be asking the same question again for a daughter, where are all the brown dolls?

Michelle is a born and raised California girl who now lives in Guatemala, with her husband. She is a part-time teacher, full-time question asker and her sentences often come out in Spanglish. She blogs about cross-culturally living, marriage and faith at simplycomplicated.me.

Our Immigration Love Story: Guest Posts at G92

I have always been a big fan of Undocumented.tv, an online resource addressing immigration from a Christian perspective. They recently joined with G92, a growing conference movement on college campuses, “equipping the next generation for an effective, Biblical response to immigration.” I attended the first G92 Conference at Cedarville University last year.

It has been so exciting to see young, evangelical college students catching a vision of what it means to “welcome the stranger.” I am hopeful that the Church will be a compassionate voice advocating for immigrants.

This week, G92 is featuring the posts of Billy and me dating and falling in love. Our immigration love story, if you will. I am so touched that they have asked to share our experiences, and I hope this narrative offers a fresh, relatable perspective on immigration for those who read it.

They have created a 5-part series, posting Monday-Friday of this week. You can check them out on their site, beginning here.

For those of you who may have missed a post in the series (or just want to read some again) or any new visitors (welcome!), I thought I’d offer a short re-cap of the pre-engagement posts here today. I will be continuing next week with our post-engagement visit to the lawyer.

How I Met My Husband: Was it love at first sight? I don't know. I don't really remember meeting him.

Tricked Into A Date: If only I'd known Spanish, I could've avoided at least one awkward moment when I "ended up" on a first date with Billy.

The First (Official) Date: Whenever there's a choice between dinner on Rodeo Drive or Salvadorian pupusas in MacArthur Park... you should always go pupusa!

Wait... Did You Just Say You're Illegal? Early in our dating, Billy started dropping some major hints. I had no idea what it all really meant.

What Not To Do On A Date: Just a little bit of foolishness from one of our early dates. It's a bad combo with flip flops mix with swimming pool bathrooms...

With These Papers, I Thee Wed: The reality of how immigration and marriage affect each other is revealed to me. 

How My Husband Came To the States: I love it when people ask Billy why he came to the States. Like, LOVE it… I begin laughing maniacally while Billy looks at me with an expression just short of eye-rolling. 

Fake IDs and Bicycles: Working without Papers: Billy's immigration experience continued.

Free to Wait Tables and Dig Holes: As Billy discovers the workplace opportunities available to immigrants, he learns some important lessons.

Welcome to Coyote Inn: Everyone deals with the trauma of immigrating in their own way.

The Big DTR Talk: Whether I'm awkward or laid-back is still to be determined, but at the end of the day, our relationship is defined.

When You Know It's Love: As they say... the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.

I Love You: The Video: We take to the screen to share the big moment of those three little words!

Guatemala: The Top 5 List: I travel to Billy's home country and meet his family for the very first time.

Can I Get Your Digits? A painful request from Billy's employer causes us to consider what our best long-term decisions should be.

The Day Everything Changed: It's been a journey, but we finally get engaged!

If you've enjoyed this series, please consider sharing it! Also, to keep up with future posts, you can subscribe via RSS feed or Google Friend Connect. Receive a weekly email by signing up in the sidebar.

I'd love to hear your reactions or favorite post in the comments. Thank you so much for reading!

Traveling with Starrs

Hands down one of my favorite stories from our recent trip to Guatemala has to do with our friends that joined us. Their last name is Starr and little did we know that we would actually be traveling with “stars.” (It’s with their permission that I share this story.)

We were in downtown Guatemala City… enjoying central park, checking out the exterior of the President’s office, and admiring a massively large Guatemalan flag. You know…wind billowing through huge sheets of fabric can fascinate toddlers.

Nearby were some women dressed in traditional Mayan apparel. One of them approached my husband and asked if they could take a photo with my friend Ashlee. It’s not uncommon for some of these women to allow themselves to be photographed by tourists in exchange for a small fee.

My husband quickly told her ‘no, thank you’… that we didn’t have a tip to offer her. 

She immediately responded, “No, no. We want to have a photo of her.”

What?! So sure enough, Ashlee and her daughter sat down between these two women who pulled out their digital camera so they could have a keepsake of their encounter with a Starr.

THEN… not thirty minutes later, we are still walking in the same area when Ashlee and I realize the boys are lagging behind us. We turn around to see a vendor taking a close-up photo of her husband and son. 

When they caught up to us, Billy laughingly told us that the man was fascinated by their son’s eyes and asked if he could take a picture of them. I like to think that photo is hanging on their refrigerator… or maybe on their Facebook page.

Finally, a couple days later we were on the main street in Panajachel where a lot of handicrafts are made and sold. I ducked into a booth to look at merchandise, and when I stepped back into the street, I saw a man holding out a small notebook and Ashlee was signing it! What on earth?

I soon learned that in actuality she was spelling her daughter’s name since he was creating a customized yarn-wrapped pen for her. Not quite as exciting as signing autographs, but made me laugh just the same.

So it was a whole new experience traveling around Guatemala with Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz. I suppose those of us who have hair the color of a dusty mountain don’t really draw the same crowd as the blondes. Ah, well….

Do you have some amusing encounters when traveling?

Why I Am Raising A Bicultural Kid

A couple months ago, my friend Alyssa Bacon-Lui from All Things Beautiful shared an incredible guest post, The Not-So-Tragic Mulatto:What Growing Up Biracial Taught Me. I have been so deeply grateful for her thoughtful reflections on her racial identity, and I enjoy reading similar posts on her blog

Today I am so honored to have the opportunity to write a guest post for her. She asked me the question of why Billy and I have decided to be intentional in our daughter's bicultural identity. It was an important personal exercise for me to think through and articulate the "why" behind our choices. Here's a sneak peek at the post:

When I asked my husband why we are intentionally raising our daughter in two cultures, he was incredulous. “Because that’s who she is,” he told me. “She Guatemalan and she’s American.”

And I completely agree. I mean, seriously, I think I stirred those words into the Kool-Aid he’s been drinking.

But when I stop and think about it, I recognize that there’s a reality our daughter could slip into American culture virtually unnoticed. She’s a light skinned girl with brown eyes. While my husband speaks to her solely in Spanish, our family conversations are in English. We live in the States.

If we weren’t intentional, she could probably grow up pretty easily as the all-American girl who occasionally says, “Oh yeah. My dad immigrated from Guatemala. My grandparents still live there.” Her friends would probably respond, “Really?”

But that’s not what I hope for her cultural identity, and I have tried to be intentional even in these first two years of her life. It’s been a bit different than I expected, but I think I’m beginning to plant deeper roots of why I started out on this journey with her to begin with.

Read the rest of this post on All Things Beautiful by clicking here.

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