I hate it when people fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor for the first time. They always emerge from the plane to say, "Wow, the city is not exactly what I imagined, it's just so . . . just so . . .
(And I think: Come on, bitch, spit it out.)
"Just so . . . brown!"
These people come from lands ripe with tree groves, rolling green lawns, and cute manicured bushes. Well, that's not us. But that doesn't mean that my hometown is ugly. You just have to look for the beauty in the brown. Like the rocky formations of South Mountain Park and the West Valley's Earth-quilt of taupe- and cardamom-colored farm fields. That's just what you can see from the plane. Once you land, there's the high-gloss balsamic dressing at My Florist Café and the leather-colored people you drive past on Avenida del Yaqui in Guadalupe. Besides, what's so profane about brown? Absolutely nothing.
Pay attention, gentle reader! I hereby proclaim and reclaim the beauty of brown — the word, the color, and the meaning. While some may think it's bad to describe something or someone as brown, I hereby decree that, evermore, it's not! Call me Paris, but I say brown is hot.
Before you argue, just take a look at UPS men. I mean, seriously. There is something about those russet-colored uniforms that make them seem beyond sexy. Buff brown-clad men delivering exciting packages — big and small — in mysterious, but comfortable brown cardboard parcels filled with potential.
I'm telling you, brown can be unexpectedly beautiful. And I believe that there is much to be gained from taking a closer look at all things brown. And by brown, I mean Latino.
Speaking of, New Times is calling this column "Brown Town." But trust me when I say we didn't arrive at this name without much debate and holleration.
I wanted to call the column "On the Brown Low." But some people at the paper thought the title could be construed as somewhat obscene. I'll let you use your imagination. In my interpretation, calling this column "On the Brown Low" would simply mean a peephole view into a local community that we as a metropolis, state, and country know very little about — despite the growing brown population figures.
I do like the label "Latino," so I suppose we could have called the column something predictable like "Latino Life." After all, that means my origins are from Latin America. It's broad, yet truthful and accurate. Furthermore, the term Latino is becoming increasingly popular here in the U.S. as we start to realize you can be brown and originate from a country in Latin America that doesn't speak Spanish, like Brazil.
We could have considered the dreaded H-word. But let me be blunt: I do not, do not, DO NOT want to be called "Hispanic." I admit that there is an island sandwiched between Cuba and Puerto Rico called Hispaniola. But I am not from there. I don't know anybody from there. Neither do you. Back in the '70s, the U.S. government, for census purposes, championed the term Hispanic to label anyone with ancestry from a Spanish-speaking country. Some say the government actually invented the term. One way or the other, it was a lazy, lame, and over-vague attempt to brand the country's human cattle.
Here's a confession: I would have loved working the term "Chicano" into the column title. It holds power. If you've ever wondered where the word comes from, here's a simple explanation, minus the language rules that confuse us all. In Spanish, sometimes the X can be pronounced like "sh." Now, think of the word "Mexico." And remember that people who are from there are "Mexicano." If you truncate the word you get "Xicano." Next, apply the "sh" pronunciation, some magic fairy dust and poof! You get the word that many Mexican-Americans have adapted as a political label of empowerment: Chicano.
But Brown Town it is. Welcome! I've really come to like the title because, ultimately, I really do prefer that people simply call me brown. And like so many in the black community who have embraced their color label as a symbol of cultural and political power, I will do the same with the sound of "brown."
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And though many people, including other Latinos, laugh at my label of choice, that's cool. When all is said and overdone, I believe it's important to add some levity and beauty to the painful dialogues we are having about brown people in our state and country these days. It's so easy to enjoy Latino culture in the Valley, but it's so difficult to enjoy Latino people, isn't it? Let's admit it. We all love the food, flag, and fiesta of my clan. But, ultimately, we are scared of you. And you are scared of us.
You know, the more I think about it, I am clear that my color really is beautiful. I just remembered that on our first Halloween together, my golden-hearted boyfriend at the time actually dressed up as a UPS box.
Forget small. For me, good things always come in brown packages.