COLUMN – The other day I was sitting on a table scrolling through Instagram. When someone noticed my pink colored nails. Like every other week, I had been the day before to the nail salon to paint my nails with this new trend, gel nails. This promising technique allows women, like me, who love to have their nails perfect all the time to have a color that lasts 3 weeks. To my surprise, it was not about how good my nails looked or my choice of color. On the contrary, the automatic response was to comment on them. Yet, it was no flattering sentence. “Typical Latina superficial thing”. I was static. My proud grin turned into a shocked face. What was I supposed to answer?
I was determined to find out the origin of this comment, that resonated in my head but didn’t make any sense at all. I stared, not so politely perhaps, to every girl’s nails that week. Maybe there was something wrong with me. Some were chipped, some were painted, others were perfect and a few not very polished at all. That proved I wasn’t alone.
Once a friend said: “I know you are really overworked because your nails are chipped”. It was true, and something I learned since I was very young. Nails are also a part of your presentation. Every two weeks when I was a little girl I accompanied my mother to the hair salon. There she retouched her gorgeous blond highlights and did a mani-pedi. I sat there while passing the pages of magazines as other fashionable women danced their way through the same treatments. Now every time I have a chance I cut, shape and paint my nails to perfection. But how are women taking care of themselves a cultural superficial thing? After all, to us, nails are a part of the outfit you perfectly design for a job interview. It talks about who you are and that you take care of yourself. Then I remembered one of my friends and what she said when I first came to Belgium.
The first day of the Dutch course I knew no one but I sat in the middle of a room with 20 different nationalities. I, of course, ran towards the first person who spoke Spanish. While we were eating once at lunch while talking about nail polish, my friend told us about how she found out we were from Latin America. “I saw both of you wearing nail polish. None of your nails were chipped and the first thing that went through my mind was: they’re latinas”. So maybe it was true, we did push ourselves into that cultural corner?
A week after they had insulted my nails, I began a course. Where again I met different people. While presenting myself explaining that I lived in Venezuela, a guy quickly made a remark “Oh like those Miss Universe winners” to what another girl answered, “Yes, a terrible world like on that Netflix documentary. Poor girls”. Again I couldn’t say anything. I mean how could I? If one of my ultimate dreams once was being part of that world. I mean beautiful models, traveling around the world sounded pretty awesome as a kid. I went home straight to watch that documentary and how it was terribly depicting the girls and failing to deliver some facts. Still, it brought no ease to my mind and left me even more reflective.
The next morning I found the answer while I went shopping with my mom. I saw a t-shirt on one of the counters that read “I am Perfecta”. A perfectly written English sentence using the adjective “perfect” in Spanish. That got me thinking, maybe I was the one who was wrong. Twice did people try to push my heritage or culture in a corner because of their personal view of us and I stood there letting them do it. I didn’t object to it nor did I explain why it was so important to me and to us. So I decided I wasn’t letting them anymore. I was wearing my culture the same way I would wear that shirt, not because I’m perfect but because I’m unique, just like my culture. I understood that I shouldn’t take what that person commented about my nails as an insult. I had to take it as a way of pointing out that I stood out and that was something to be proud of not ashamed. To be unique, to be different and to stand out are always good things.