For a period of my life, I wanted nothing more than for the flesh of my body to melt off.

The journey of hating myself began at the age of six, when I revealed to my older playmates that I was Latina. Expecting rousing approval from my neighborhood friends, my ears were met with insidious laughter.

“The gringa thinks she’s Spanish now.”

Taunts continued to fly my way as I became more enraged with each word, hell-bent to prove the Latin blood within me. A delightful neighborhood laugh evoked a decades long quest to prove to everyone, including myself, that I was Latina, even though I did not inherit the looks.

By age ten I had engraved the history of my father’s homeland into my brain, just in case anyone ever challenged the knowledge of my background. Quite to my mother’s dissatisfaction, it became clear that I had no interest in her Irish ancestry or history. I denounced the side that made me so pale compared to my father and my friends.

When I entered sixth grade, I befriended a group of white girls that I had never met before. The integration of different grade school classes into one “middle” school separated me from my childhood friends. Left alone, I soon became “BFF’s” with these girls, and was indoctrinated into white American culture. I was encouraged to straighten my hair, in order to get rid of my untamable curls, the only evidence of my Latin American roots.

Depression during my thirteenth year detoured my conquest to prove the caramel flowing below my white outer shell. My father had fled his marriage, leaving me without the only piece of evidence that proved my cause. Daddy was very tan, and especially dark in the summers. Even though I did not have the tan skin, I had his nose and facial expressions. I mourned my only connection to Latin America, until the summer of 2010.

Ninth grade brought the unavoidable boy craze. I joined the fanatic love craze of Bachata singers Romeo Santos and Prince Royce. I memorized every word, key, and accent for each song to make sure I could sing perfectly. I had no idea what I was singing but at least I could sing and dance. At least I seemed Latina when I sang. I picked up on Dominican and Puerto Rican slang. I knew the three different ways the “ll” in the Spanish alphabet were pronounced around Latin America.  I could make plátanos and mangú. My special empanadas de pollo were loved by everybody.

With all my knowledge, friends, and my perfected act, I still was laughed at for thinking I was Latina. The enemy of my goal surrounded every inch of my body. Each morning I was faced with my hideous pale reflection, the side of me I wanted no part of. In the drugstore, my savior met me in the cosmetics aisle: foundation and concealer. My eyes gleamed at the choices of different skin colors that surrounded me. A tone called “exotic” spoke to the desire of my heart, and I paid for my newfound liberator.

I walked into school with a newly discovered self. Finally, I reflected who I felt I was on the inside. No longer was I “the white girl” who sat at the colored table at school. Gringa and Wanna-be Oreo were no longer my nicknames. I was finally an equal. I was equal.

Everyone stared with shock. My friends did not know whether to laugh or be concerned, as my feelings of self-hatred had finally surfaced. A solemn aura filled the room as one by one they realized I was most likely the only white girl they ever knew who hated her skin. Why would a girl with the skin color of privilege want to be anything else? All were in uncharted territory.

I sat down, choosing to own my new skin color and silence all hypothetical questions. A close friend walked into the room, unaware of the situation occurring. She looked at me, realizing my change of appearance. Without comprehending the depth of her words, she stated, “You are prettier tan. Keep the new look.”

A statement that should have made be happy only cut me.

The phase of  “exotic” skin only lasted a month, with a lack of funds and a refusal of support from my mother. A month-long trial had tested her patience and kindness. Affirmations of “This is only a phase” could not ease her mind because she knew the truth. I would continue to embarrass her as a walking Oompa Loompa if she did not intervene. The absence of my father was blamed for my teenaged skin crisis.

On a glum weekend of my tenth year of public schooling, a mindless bout of movie watching turned into an epiphany. A mediocre movie to anyone else turned into one essential to my healing. While watching the movie Belle, I found a character I related to. Based on the 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle next to her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, the film focused on the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of the 1st Earl of Mansfield’s nephew, John Lindsay. The historical period drama is set during the Zong Massacre court case, when slaves were thrown overboard a slaveship so the owner could collect on the insurance money, and focuses on Dido’s love interest with a lawyer as she struggles with her mixed-race identity within the social hierarchy of England. Though I knew Dido’s experience was stronger and held many more struggles than my own ever would, I understood her. In one scene, Dido stands in front of a mirror after an intense fight. She stares into the mirror breathing heavily, tears at the corner of her eyes. Intensely, Dido begins scratching away at her skin, full of hatred.

Finally, here was a piece of art that represented the way I felt.

Like a coin on a scratch-off ticket, I too wanted to scrape away my skin color. I wanted nothing more than the sweet pain of flesh melting off my face. Whips of cool air burning against my open flesh, all over my body. I didn’t want to be gringa. I didn’t want to be Latina anymore. The weight of skin color defining me became too much.

I hated that I was born white. I hated that I was half Latina. I hated that I didn’t fit in with my white family or white classmates. I hated that I could neither fit in or be accepted by my friends of color. I was alone in my experiences; they never aligned fully with either race. My hair texture was not white enough for hair products of the Wal-Mart aisle to work on me, but I was stared at as an outsider to all races when I looked for solace in the small “black hair” section.

The toll of carrying race as my identity crushed my soul. My lungs gasped for air and a wail for peace escaped my throat. A rainstorm escaped my eyes, marking the process of healing to begin. A scene that would be so easily forgettable for many resonated with my soul. I was not alone in my internal conflict, and the skin I inherited was not who I was.

At age seventeen, the course of healing a decade of long self-loathing began.

My identity is not snow white or caramel. It is only a part of who I am. Just as an artist chooses certain palettes for a painting, my skin palette was chosen pink and pale. My glorious savior is no longer an “exotic” concealer but a risen king. The weight on my soul was lifted with bloody hands. I am a daughter of the Creator who created me to create. My life was made uniquely so that I may experience and see life differently—ultimately, to express my voice and experiences to the world.

Today, this is what I can say. The sting is not as strong as when I first heard the word “gringa” breathed in my direction. I am thankful for my experience, and to be a part of different cultures because I am mixed. When arguments arise between different races, I am able to understand both sides and bring a middle voice. I find beauty in not only my father’s culture but my mother’s culture as well. Most importantly, I know I was fearfully and wonderfully made.

Elizabeth Davalos’s personal essay “Scratch Away” won third prize in the Fifth Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Elizabeth is a sophomore at SVA currently studying traditional animation. An avid lover of all the arts, she has a hard time confining herself to one medium. When not creating, Elizabeth jams to Hamilton and makes bangin’ empanadas.