Today, the blog post I am sharing is written by graduating senior Sasha Estrella-Jones, who recently had the opportunity to travel to Cuba. She reflects on her trip and the implications that it held for her, and shares some of her beautiful photos. Enjoy!!
Sasha Francisca Estrella-Jones – Guest Blogger
What it Meant to Me
As a bi-racial, Latina who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York transitioning to life in Athens has been interesting to say the least. While the past four years I have made Ohio University a home away from home, there are still times when as a woman of color I feel isolated in a sea of over 20,000 Bobcats. It could be the tone in my voice and my outspoken nature, the big gold or silver hooped earrings one can usually spot me wearing around campus, the fact that it is no longer 2005 but I still like my lips glossed up 24/7, the Soca and Raggaeton that I blast from my car speakers, or simple things like my name- professors still fail to correctly pronounce my last name. Quick Spanish lesson, two L’s make a y sound so it is pronounced Estreya though written Estrella. Even as a senior, one of the things I still miss most about home are seeing women with looks and mannerisms like me.
With that said and the brutal winter cold in full effect, what better place could there have been to spend spring break than in Cuba. Yes, Cuba. The largest island in the Caribbean that’s known for its cigars, rum, vintage cars, music, baseball, and last but by no means least the United States embargo that lasted over 50 years. While I did smoke cigars in Cuba, enjoy a number of delicious mojitos, took a taxi ride in a 50’s Chevy, heard Spanish and Afro-Caribbean music everywhere I went, saw college students playing a baseball game, and spoke to Cubans about life through the “Special Period”, Cuba was much more than that.
For me, Cuba meant being the standard the beauty and loving myself a little bit more. Let me preface this by saying I did not stay in Cuba long enough, nor talk to enough Cuban women to fully understand what the Cuban standard of beauty is. Rather, this is written from the perspective of being in a space that was not dominated by ideas and images of white, European beauty standards. Standards that feel and are unattainable for women like me. In Cuba my thighs, breasts, hips, lips, and butt could not be big enough. I was not body shamed for being shapely and voluptuous or for having stretch marks and cellulite. Having blonde hair and blue eyes did not equate to being any sort of “dream girl” and my curls were appreciated, instead of being asked to be tamed and straightened. I could be myself. I felt beautiful, because I did not have to look like anyone or anything else to be considered attractive by society.
While not downplaying the importance and necessity of self-love, self-validation, and self-confidence, being in a society that appreciated my beauty was refreshing. It was a foreign feeling and it was foreign, because still too often in America women of color are sexually fetishized, hyper-sexualized, while simultaneously still viewed as inferior to white women and not truly a part of the beauty standards we have in our country. It becomes more and more challenging to internalize that you are beautiful, even when want to feel like you are, when the society you are a part of is content with making you odd girl out. To Cuba, from an American, I’d like to say thank you for allowing me to celebrate and love the woman I am that much more. I hope my country is taking notes on how to create more inclusive standards of beauty.