Installation presented at The Place, London November 21st 2018.
(also featured in CalArts Latin Fest 2019)
BW, WB Playlist
BROWN WOMB, WHITE BABY is a performance art installation that tackles the constant negotiation of identity in the limbo of being a white passing first generation Colombian-American.
The installation consists of collaged images depicting the performer’s childhood, illustrations (made in collaboration with Gabriela Escovar), poetry, a life sized Barbie box, and atmospheric elements that all examine mixed race identity in the face of White America.
Poetry by Catalina Jackson-Urueña
‘Hola, how can I help you?’
I watch the blonde girl in front of me order a
kesa-dila and whore-chata in AP Spanish approved jagged tongue.
‘Oh! Y una tamalé’ she adds with severe emphasis and wrongfully placed pride.
My chest collapses instinctually
Lungs cringing, holding my breath
and I think of my mamá’s smooth singing voice,
what would she say?
honey almond eyes
rich dark hair pulled back from her face
seems unphased, amiably amused even
to have a white girl butcher her mother tongue.
Through the window to the kitchen behind the cashier table
a beautifully full woman is kneading dough
Her hands are gentle, thick, calloused
The color of coffee beans.
I imagine the history carved into her palms, the warmth, love, protección materna
Just like the hands that belong to mi mamá.
The cashier must be her daughter.
I look down at my own milky palms
It’s my turn.
I order my food in English
‘For real?? I never would have guessed!’
I laugh, agreeable like always
although my smile is stiff and my heart holds a heaviness I still don’t quite understand.
Yes, my mom is from Colombia.
No, I wasn’t born there.
Yes, I know I look white as fuck.
No, I am not Mexican.
Yes, I’m fluent in Spanish.
No, I won’t say something for you.
I’m 21 now and have been practicing this exchange since elementary school
once the silver spoon loudmouth kids couldn’t see how that brown woman belonged to me.
‘Are you sure that isn’t your babysitter?’
I perform this exchange like it is a heart warming Lifetime movie:
smoothed over, mundane, an easy narrative for any Western throat to swallow.
I learned to keep the conversation short.
It was more comfortable for everyone involved.
That seemed like a doable practice until
my friends would be laughing over pronouncing words at a Mexican restaurant
or need help on their Spanish homework
or feel the need to call me out me when meeting new people
‘Oh! And Cata is Colombian. Ayi ayi spicccyyy”
Like my undercover brownness made them cooler.
Like having a white-brown kid with them made them diverse and PC.
Like my undercover brownness was watered down enough to be acceptable in public.
Like having a white-brown kid on their side meant they had amnesty to throw around racist commentary.
They liked me because to them, I was a two for one: a taco stand that sells burgers too.
They could white-out my identity when they wanted
and in turn took the power to reveal my roots for their benefit.
I was their whitewashed Colombian doll
To use as they pleased
now you’re interested.
now that my white body can be a site for your fetish fantasy
but safer, right?
because you can still introduce me to your apple pie, salt and pepper seasoning mom
without tainting your prep school sweater with the color of a ‘real chola’.
did your glasses prescription suddenly readjust when you heard I have Latin blood?
did my ass suddenly double in size?
did your dick suddenly double in size?
to all the white boys who re-assessed my fuckability
when they realized tortillas come in more than one color,
fuck all the way off
and I am not your pseudo puta
Disculpas tardías para mamá:
there are too many instances
that the world put miles of distance between us
and told me it made sense
simply because we didn’t match.
I didn’t understand all the ways you sacrificed home
for me, for Nico
how many times did I let myself be convinced that
I was not meant to be on your side
Mamá, I am on your side
I am always on your side.
me da tristeza ver en el pasado la niña que era
para todas las maneras que te sacrificaste para mi
no entendí todas las formas que los estados unidos te decepcionó
que pena que no entendí
qué feo que te trate mamá
qué feo que deje el mundo separarnos por tanto tiempo
disculpa mi estupidez
I love you
I love you
A million times over.
~ *collaged over this poem:
for not always being on your side
for not saying I love you back
for responding to you in English
for not understanding all the ways the States disappointed you
for not understanding the ways I should have helped you
for not being there for you
for being ungrateful
for losing sight of the breadth of your love
for not saying thank you as much as I should
for taking too much and giving back too little
for not defending you more
if I ever made you feel alone
She wore rainbow patterned leggings, glitter barrettes, red glasses
and la Virgen María around her neck.
Every day at lunch she’d have little containers
of fruit and cheese
‘comida de pájaro’ mamá would say
and a bag of Achiras del Huila.
She raced around the playground
flew through the monkey bars
Cumbia in her feet
Ella Fitzgerald in her heart
and only curiosity at her fingertips
It didn’t matter to her that
Su padre nuestro were the words that carried her to school every morning
Or that her Dios was not her dad’s God
Or that two tongues lived in her home
Why couldn’t Juanes and Billie Holiday exist in the same space?
It didn’t matter to her.
That was family
And that was her life
Tortillas and tamales and patacones
Baseball and the blues and Budweiser
It all meant home
I feel it in the pit of my stomach
piercing my organs all the way up to my throat
and I try to hold it down with a smile
but damn I don’t know how much rage I’m capable of swallowing
Man this wound is so sore, I am so tired of it
It stings the way invisibility stings
how a whole person
can be disappeared so easily by one person’s decision erase you.
I have a searing vat of ‘no, really, it’s okay’
being constantly kneaded over and over again with iron branding palms
massaging bitterness and blame into my flesh
tired of living under perceptions of me that aren’t real
tired of that gaze that says my skin color is more proof who I am than my experience
who am I really
through whose eyes do I exist fully other than my mamá and papá
I am so tired
of clutching who I am close to my chest
scared of undoing my arms and opening my palms
you’re not Colombian enough, white girl
keep it to yourself
I am betrayed by my own voice
it feels strange to be told your only tangible home
isn’t–shouldn’t be yours
but you don’t look Colombian
How can I prove myself to you?
Do I need to have a rosary tattooed around my neck?
Do I need to spanglish every sentence that comes out of my mouth?
oh, she’s not really Colombian, she’s mixed
It is muscle memory now
wrapping my arms tighter around chest
trying not to lose the parts of myself that don’t add up for you
sometimes it is better swallow it, to stay quiet