Colonialism Of Childbirth: How Racism Slammed Into My Surrogacy Experience
In Mexico, it's common to hear the term "improving the race" when a darker skinned person dates someone who is white. The author came directly in contact with these prejudices — and Spain's discrimination of people from its former colonies — when she went through surrogacy.
On my 26th birthday, my black, lesbian artist friend Kara Lynch gave me Angela Davis' autobiography. Together with Lynch and several artists and writers from the borderlands of Tijuana and the United States, we formed the first openly feminist collective in Baja California, Mexico, in 2002 — the Interdisiplinario la Línea. We wanted to make visible the work of great undiscovered Mexican writers and artists.
When she handed me the book, I remember Lynch telling me that it was an indispensable text “for us, as women of color”. At first, I didn't understand if her "we" was really for me.
"But I'm not a woman of color, Kara," I said. I was 26 and until that moment, I had not understood that I was a woman of color. A racialized woman.
She looked at me with surprise and some tenderness before replying, “Honey, you are not a white woman.”
A nation divided by class and skin color
Just like in a movie, I saw a montage of images in my head of my life up to that point. The difference in color between my mother, my brothers and me; the comments of relatives and neighbors about how pretty my sister the güerita was (güero or güera is a Mexican word for people with white skin and/or blonde hair); the teachers' preference for the blond girls and boys in the class; the use of “morenita”, “morenito” as a euphemism for brown, dark, black people; the teasing about my mother's last name.
Mexico is a deeply racist and classist country, but one that denies its own racism.
That summer Kara stayed at my house for a couple of weeks and the days became my immersive course on racism and coloniality. Between tacos and chelas (beers), we discussed Black activism, Chicano (people of Mexican descent living the U.S) and colored feminism, skin whitening and intersectionality. We talked about problems that I had thought I wasn't affected by until that moment.
Mexico, like the rest of the former European colonies, is a deeply racist and classist country, but at the same time it is a country that denies its own racism.
About 90% of the Mexican population is mestizo or descendant of native peoples. Only the remaining 10% are of majority European descent, and yet all advertising and most television is filled up with white people. To be white is to resemble the “master" or the “boss”. It is an aspirational possibility supported by statistics. According to the 2017 Social Mobility Survey of the Espinosa Yglesias Study Center (CEEY) in Mexico, both the socioeconomic level and the index of wealth and economic income are higher among Mexicans with whiter skin.
In my house, as in most Mexican homes, racism was never talked about. I was the darker one “morenita”, my sister the güerita and my brother the white baby. There was no conversation about racism, nor was there about machismo or homophobia. We inherit prejudices and violent practices without questioning them. Prejudices and practices that become violence that, in turn, also shapes our colonized desires (I am referring here to the activist and researcher Lucrecia Masson and her reflection on the decolonization of desire).
My sisters, cousins and I come from a line of single mothers; the men of the family have been blond with light-colored eyes and the women were descendants of native peoples or mestizas. So today, ours is a multicolor family. I'm talking about the same family that still repeats the phrase “we have to improve the race” in conversations with cousins about possible daughters or sons. The same family where the güero grandfather crossed to the States to get a job and send money to his wife and daughters who stayed in Jalisco (waiting for the father and the dollars that never came).
When my partner Paula and I started the process of assisted reproduction, we originally wanted to carry out insemination with a known donor. For health reasons, this first option was surprisingly ruled out and, due to the fast progress of our treatment, it was necessary to decide on an anonymous donor sample, from the hospital's own sperm bank.
After months of blood tests, intake of contraceptives, daily injections in the abdomen with medications for ovarian stimulation, the day finally arrived when the biologist in charge of our in vitro fertilization process made an appointment with me in his office. After explaining in detail the procedure for ovarian puncture, it was time to talk about the selection of the possible sperm donor.
"Improving the race"
In Mexico, unlike other countries, there is very little regulation regarding assisted reproduction processes, which allows the choice of donor to be the decision of the possible pregnant person or, where appropriate, future fathers or mothers.
My partner Paula was out of Mexico for work reasons. So that afternoon was the first time I met the doctor I was alone.
One is blond and has green eyes.
Hello Abril, how are you? Don't be nervous, the procedure is going very well, so you keep calm. How is Paula? By the way, where did you meet? How did you manage to pick her up, lucky girl?
Her question surprised me. Suddenly I was there, in front of a doctor specialized in assisted reproduction whose gaze turned me into a fortune hunter, except that here the fortune was to be the partner of a white European woman. Under her gaze, I was a kind of contemporary Malinche (Nahua woman who helped Spanish conquerors). The question made me uncomfortable but, given the circumstances, I preferred not to say anything.
“Based on Paula's blood type, I have selected potential donors for her procedure. There are a couple that are very handsome. One is blond and has green eyes. We do not have Spanish donors, but if you want we can buy a sample from another bank, but of course that would have an additional cost for you.”
The doctor was following the racist mandate that most of us Mexicans have internalized: “improve the race” by giving birth to white children. For her, it was "logical and desirable" that if a lesbian couple had the possibility to choose, they would choose a blonde donor. Why choose a dark skinned donor? I explained that we were not interested in a semen sample from a donor with blond hair or green eyes. I asked for samples from brown-skinned donors.
"That is more difficult, because it is very rare that couples want brown or Black donors, so since there is no demand, we usually do not have an offer, but let me review the catalog again and tomorrow I will tell you about the options."
Colonialism does not skip parenting
Doctors performing tests on newborn babies to protect them from Covid 19 in the Spring of 2020. Coatepec, Mexico
© Hector Adolfo Quintanar Perez / Zuma Wire
In the end, we chose the sample of the “darkest” compatible donor in the catalog, whom the biologist described as “a little lighter” than me.
After ovarian puncture and insemination, it was possible to transfer three embryos to Paula's uterus. In October 2014, our daughters were born at the University Hospital of Salamanca, Spain. Their birth has meant a continuous learning process for us. Raising them has confronted us with our most deeply rooted prejudices around gender, colonialism, feminism itself and, indirectly, has also questioned our desire.
Our children are a brown girl and a white-passing boy. I can't lie and say that this color difference didn't bother me from the start. Assuming that precisely the body that is read as masculine is the whitest led me to worry about how our girl was going to perceive that difference or not. And I was not wrong.
It's amazing how adults make such basic and profoundly racist remarks to the parents of racialized children, even when those parents are also racialized: "The girl is much more brown, isn't she?" "The girl is darker than you, how strange." "Don't worry, she is still Spanish-passing."
Paula and I, as a Mexican-Spanish couple, soon understood that racism and colonialism was not an issue that we could afford to ignore in our family. Denying these realities only produces that the little ones lack the language to name the violence and racism that they will surely face.
Renaming what already had a name
In 2020, it was necessary to move from Mexico City to Spain, in full global confinement caused by the Covid-19 crisis. We had to leave the house where we had celebrated our wedding, ours and our children's birthdays, meetings and parties with the extended family. The home where the little ones walked and talked for the first time, the space where they lived with their aunts and uncles. The patio floor my daughter kissed when saying goodbye to the house that cradled her early childhood. I left my job, my community and my chosen family.
We arrived in Madrid when there was still a curfew. The coexistence groups was reduced to five people and the masks were mandatory in all interior and exterior spaces. We lived in a bubble the first months after our arrival. It was just after those months, when public life was gradually returning to “normality”, when I experienced for myself what it means to migrate to Europe as a Latin American.
If in Mexico I was aware of my own privileges and oppressions, here the rules of the game changed. Here, as Gabriela Wiener has said in her book Huaco Retrato, "Migrating is not being born again, it is renaming what already had a name." Here my professional experience or my training no longer matters when looking for a job. Being brown, unemployed and having a foreign ID instead of a national ID immediately makes me a second class citizen, even though having a foreign ID is already a privilege.
I have understood, from my own experience, how racism operates in Spain towards the migrations from its former colonies. Here, they have required me to open my backpack to show the cashier that I did not carry any hidden product. They have called me a “shitty sudaka”(a derogatory term towards Latin Americans in Spain); they have treated me with humiliation and condescension when trying to carry out a procedure in the offices of the national police. Here, I have been "invited" to read about the conquest in Mexico, trying to convince me that miscegenation was the product of marriages recognized by the church between Spaniards and indigenous people.
Disobeying Eurocentric mandates
But also, right here, I have embodied the urgency to decolonize my motherhood and the upbringing of our children. Yes, I have tried to embrace the contradiction of being married to a Spanish woman while explaining to the little ones that Spain's national holiday celebrates the beginning of the genocide and extermination in the European colonies in Abya Yala, and that we will never celebrate it at home. Also the need to point out racist and/or colonial attitudes, even when they are generated within the family itself. To deny racism is to refuse to fight it.
It is here, in the Madrid of “freedom”, where I have been able to imagine the possibility that the Sudaka, the dark, black and brown friends, I have will become my second nation. It is in this country that denies citizenship to the children of undocumented migrants, even if they were born in Spanish territory, that I have recognized the urgency of migrant rights immediately.
I have embraced that the decolonization of motherhood and parenting does not have to do exclusively with using communication strategies. It also has to do with decolonizing our own affections and desires by disobeying eurocentric mandates.