My story is not unlike many others, but it is indeed 100% mine.
Growing up I always sort of felt like I was a lesson to most people, and I don’t blame them because we are all ignorant until we are not. Most of my peers and friends had never really interacted with a person of color. I got called nigger, raccoon, monkey. I even once got invited to a friend’s house for a play date, which ended up just being a game of slave plantation owner. I was constantly made fun of for my mess of curls, told I liked fried chicken, you name it, it was probably said. Luckily, my classmates got to know me. As we grew older they were all very accepting and they continued on to become exceptional people. However, the damage was already done and I didn’t even know it. My subconscious mind set the “blue print” for my beliefs.
I was definitely ashamed to be Colombian, but I was glad I wasn’t Black. I wish that I didn’t feel this way and I most certainly do not now, but at the time I did. Growing up the only real images of Colombians I knew were people like Shakira and Penelope Cruz, actually I’m pretty sure those were the only two Colombians I could even name. Light skinned beautiful straight hair, needless to say nothing like me. I almost didn’t even believe that I was Colombian. In fact it wasn’t until I visited Colombia again for the first time last year that I truly realized I was. Everyone in Cartagena looked like me. It saddened me and filled my heart with joy at the same time how relieved that made me feel, how safe that made me feel. Most of the people I interacted with assumed I was just black. I was very quick to correct anyone who said so claiming I was from Bogota, Colombia. It wasn’t until after about the third or fourth time that I began to realize the shift in my peers as they began to understand I was Latina, and not an African American. It was literally as if they felt relieved like they felt a little bit more comfortable around me now, like it was OK to like me now. It got to the point that every time I met someone without them even asking I would just say hey I’m Janeth I was adopted from Colombia. Sometimes it was so out of the blue and made me look weird, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking with people unless they knew I was Colombian. It turns out I am from the coast, so I am most likely an Afro-Colombiana and I am damn proud!
The other aspect of my ethnicity which has affected and continues to affect me deeply seems so trivial, but is so real is my hair. When I was younger my mom, god love her, had no idea how to do my hair, but she did her best and I love her. I mean can you blame her? She has beautiful blonde hair with blue eyes and here I was a mess of curls. My fellow peers were brutal, they played games with my head tugging and flicking, laughed at me until I cried and genuinely made me feel horrible for being the way I was. The worst part was I was the only one, at that time I didn’t have access to the Internet or particular TV shows that would even show woman of color. I guess it almost felt like I was the only one. I spent the majority of my life hating my hair, I’ve spent hours upon hours WASTING my life straighten my hair. SO MUCH MONEY. I could honestly probably own a house by now haha. Now at 24 and thanks to the help of my amazing boyfriend a passionate, striking handsome suave Colombian with a mess of curly hair himself, I have managed to wear my hair down for weeks at a time. I am reluctant, scared, insecure, and sometimes ashamed, but I have newfound strength to listen to my conscious mind and rock the curls. This sounds so silly, but I wouldn’t even leave the house, let anyone see me, unless my hair was straight. I never felt l could go on an interview or meet someone for the first time with curly hair, because if I did I would be profiled, I would be judged. I remember spending hours thinking about how I could never get married because my husband would have to see my curly hair in the morning. That was a literal worry of mine.
My conscious mind tells me that all women are beautiful, all hair is beautiful, and its just hair it doesn’t matter. But my subconscious mind tells me my curls are ugly, I am inferior to anyone who has nicer hair than me, wow I’m really lucky my hair isn’t that kinky, I look so horrible. These are all ideals that were instilled in my brain as a child. And I have been holding on to for most of my life. Spending way to much time even thinking on it, feeling sad, when I know CONSCIOUSLY I deserve to feel beautiful being nothing, but exactly who I am.
At 24, I am ready to be happy, I am ready to feel and truly believe I am beautiful and I am worth it. I am ready to shift my subconscious mind and change the way I think. Being adopted was always just a part of me, and for as long as I can remember I have always wondered about my birth mother. What did she look like, what does she do? Basically everything. I got an email about 4 months ago after my first visit to Colombia when my urge to reconnect grew even stronger. The email said they have found my birth mom and all I had to do was make sure the DNA was a match and we could proceed with the meeting process. I am at a loss, this is literally everything I have ever longed for, but still I am stuck. I have not yet answered that email.
When I went back to Colombia in January 2015 I went with the intention of seeing some pretty unideal situations. Although I was born in Bogota I picked Cartagena! I figured it was a safe bet because it was on the ocean. Cartagena is absolutely beautiful and the Old City is filled with Colombians and tourists from around the world. However, I didn’t want to stay in the city, I didn’t want to mingle with the guy from Europe on spring break. It was extremely important to actually put myself in an authentic situation. I stayed with the most beautiful friends I have ever met, and now family who live in a small town called La Boquilla. Although they lived in a nice home and had a wonderful life some of their surrounding neighbors were not so lucky. La Boquilla is home to some rather “slum like areas”. So here I am 23 years old, barely able to speak Spanish, having went to Colombia alone for the first time and placed myself in a situation many I know would never even dare to go. However I wanted to imagine what it would be like if I wasn’t adopted. I have always assumed that because I was adopted my adopted family was not in the ideal conditions to take care of me. I wanted to see what their life was like and if “ignorance is bliss.’’
You see I had so much opportunity, I never went without, I had anything and everything I ever wanted financially speaking and emotionally my parents were awesome. But what I never had was a sense of self, a feeling of home or belonging to a tribe and from this steamed a whole other set of issues; anger, experimentation with drugs, body image, depression. Now my theory at the time (and which was sort of proven to me in my little experiment) was as follows. If I had grown up ignorant to these opportunities, but lived amongst my Colombian people, my sense of self worth, my feelings of belonging, and ability to love myself would be strongly present.
In my head, if I were never adopted and didn’t have all that I have now, but had piece of mind and a love for myself that was pure, then it would be worth any opportunity thrown my way in my current state of mind, which to me was dark stormy and never ending. After my experience, my position on this began to form. I am not ignorant to the luxuries of being an American and growing up privileged, and I am not ignorant to opportunities a poor Colombian could never even dream of. I can’t go back and I cant unlearn these things. But what I can do is recognize the fact that I can know my culture, I can know my people, I can reconnect, I can make myself whole. I can have it all.
I didn’t write this for anyone to feel bad for me. I am not playing victim. I’ve been angry and bitter and I’ve spewed probably just as much venom back when push came to shove. But I am freeing myself from it all. Freeing myself from the guilt of the hurtful things I have done as a form of protection or a shield. For I know right from wrong and I know I want to be good. I am freeing myself from the subconscious beliefs society, friends, enemies, strangers and whomever or whatever have instilled in my mind. And I am deciding to live life consciously. I will not let another day pass feeling inferior to anyone or letting anyone feel inferior to me. It is important to me that my peers understand how their words and actions affect and imprint those around them. It is important that we stop shaping the subconscious minds in a negative manner, but in a positive light.
My name is Janeth Gonda I am 24 years old and for the first time in my life I am 100% proud to be a five foot one thick crazy curled haired Colombian woman of Color, and I will never be ashamed again. I feel as though I can finally start living. And I cannot wait to share memories with you. I encourage you all to look inside and set yourself free from the wicked tricks of the subconscious mind.