Color Coded

by Maddie Giardina
As I sat there in my seat, all awkward sweat and nervous twitch, I listened as the gambit of Earth toned peers around me spit out the names of countries and cultures much darker than my own in order to give name to their own shade of brown.  After sharing all that they knew about his African grandfather and her Jamaican grandmother, they tentatively tilt their head towards me-thinking maybe I’m…Spanish?   
Maybe my Puerto Rican Abuela-all spit fire and gun smoke fell for a light-skinned smooth-talker and his eggshell complexion cracked the brown in my color and painted my family milky.  I wasn’t quite brown, but I wasn’t snowfall either.  My tongue spoke with too much mouth, too much bone and spice to be from a whitewashed language so they figured there must be something there.  However when I looked back at their questioning glances and replied with an Italian-Irish combo-it wasn’t what they were expecting.
I immediately wanted to say I’m sorry. I wanted to look back at them and say I know I can’t relate to their chestnut hardships but I’ve always loved the taste of chocolate and kissing girls with big lips so does that count? 
I’ve always loved the swing and kick of salsa and the unapologetic sadness of jazz and I am learning to be that way myself. I am learning to no longer say “I’m sorry” for the things I am not.  
The last time someone called me pretty-I said “thank you.”  The last time someone called my ethnic-I said “thank you.” The last time someone called my boy-I said “thank you.”  Even though handsome, white and girl are my correct adjectives.  There was a time I tried to force my hips Latin, force my heart straight, force my tongue hip-hop and soul- but no longer. 
My blood is made of olive oil, my heart soaked in wine as deep and rich in color as the grapes they came from.  Grapes picked by hands in the heart of Sicily-by hands that kneaded the dough and pruned the vines and allowed the yeast, and me, to rise-as they should.