We Are America

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Photo ofBranden Garcia

Cinnamon is simply not a spice, not a staple to some kind of recipe for guaranteed delight or happiness, but rather guaranteed struggle, turmoil, and frustration. No one can choose to be cinnamon, they are born into it, the slightly baked brown color forever seared into their skin. Seen as a curse for many, I manage to turn it into a blessing. A way to reach into a higher state some call enlightenment, or the promised land of the mind, simply because not many people achieve arriving into this state known as self-love. However, the gates of this “heaven'' aren't unlatched by rosy cherubs giggling, but instead a small canister of cinnamon, a bowl of oatmeal, and a young mother and her son at a stove. On my tiptoes, I barely managed to peer over the faux-marble countertop in my kitchen to gaze at a simple empty bowl at the age of six. My mother, in front of the dull black stove she usually fought with to ignite, whisked briskly away at a pot full of unfamiliar white slop that seemed to occasionally bubble and then simmer down at the same time. Magically, my mother would somehow summon a ladle to emerge from under the white mixture and drag it up in the indent of the tool, pouring it into the bowl carefully with one hand while the other reached out for the prized bronzed trophy of the spice cupboard.  As she brought down the small canister of cinnamon, unscrewed the translucent white cap, strongly contrasting with her brown hand blended at the clear midsection of the canister displaying the fine brown powder it held, she yelled out “Amerie and Cristian, come get your avena!” Her two other kids were lured into the kitchen for their oatmeal. Bowl by bowl, my mother gave us an adequate dusting of the spice over our meals as my siblings greedily reached out for them, their hands matching with the majority of the snowy white oatmeal, yet contrasting from the cinnamon. I was the total opposite, thus making the usual question filter through my head again, “Why am I so different while they’re not?”  At the age of six, I was the devil dragging me down to the depths of hell, away from the rare promised land. Deep thoughts of self-dislike formed, and infant ideas that were not yet even accelerated by the idea of racism and colorism soon grew. I felt different, separated in my own household, but soon felt a cold hard surface touch the top of my hand. Gazing at it, I saw the brown center of a canister, my hand blending in. “Be proud to be brown, Branden. Never forget your cinnamon skin is proof of your Puerto Rican beauty”, my mom whispered under her breath, noticing my small agitated face. 

 I do not let U.S. society define me and what it means to be cinnamon. The many skills of patience, adversity, persistence, and aspiration are all forms of self-love I learned from being myself, with my mother being the educator. From learning the scarred history of colonization that made me cinnamon by ancestors harvesting cinnamon, to the simple comparison of being cinnamon, I found solace. Solace granted by my mother with the idea that my world is not defined by my skin and the pain the world will bring to it, but rather what I define being brown means to me. To be cinnamon is also challenging, bold, and a spice filled with so much flavor and identity that it seems to overpower all other flavors and fragrances within one’s metaphorical bowl of oatmeal, yet when mixed with the right combination of love, technique, and experience, it seems cinnamon is no longer the spice it was, but the tree it originated from. Forever emboldened, strong, and able.

© Branden Garcia . All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.