What It Feels Like as a Chronically Ill Latina in the US

I may “look” white and healthy. I speak great English, but I’m not American. And I’m most certainly, not healthy. I am sick. I am a 100 percent Colombian, born and raised in Bogotá. I came to the States for college and stayed. I am close to being a citizen, but in my eyes, I’m still a foreigner.

I also suffer from gastroparesis and median arcuate ligament syndrome (MALS), two invisible diseases. I’m extremely underweight most of the time and I look malnourished. I try to keep up and act like it’s OK, but sometimes I can’t. In my experience, being Latina and sick isn’t easy in this country. I’m sure it’s not easy in any other, but I struggle especially hard when people label me.

“Eat a burger.”

“You look anorexic.”

“Have you lost any more weight?”

“Latinas are either too curvy or too skinny, like you.”

Why do you need to tell me this? I don’t need to hear your generalizations, and mostly racist comments.

I am skinny.

I am fair-skinned.

I do speak English well.

I do look petite and skinny.

I’m not your typical Latina — at least not the one you see on television, with a curvy ass and a thick accent. I’m also not a criminal, nor am I anorexic. But if I was anorexic, it should not matter.

Before I became sick, I thought my biggest problem would be being an immigrant. Not because of others, but because of me. I thought I would have a hard time adapting to a new culture and its people. What a surprise when two or four months in, I felt fine and at home. Of course, I still miss my parents, my family, friends, the warmth and happiness of my people, but I have found something very similar, yet very different: another home. So, imagine my surprise when I realized the biggest challenge wasn’t even going to be me, but my peers. I had no idea what was in for me as a Latina woman and as a sick person.

Suddenly, all of my windows began closing — from work opportunities, to friends, to outings. I wasn’t an interesting, strong and determined Latina woman. I was now a sick person with an accent who came with too much baggage.

However, something no one tells you, is whatever color you are, wherever you come from, being sick — we’re all the same.

Now, I have found more people with illnesses like mine than I ever have before. When you suffer from an illness, especially an invisible one, your pain can become really lonely.

I am a woman. I am Latina. I do have an accent. I’m not from here. However, I’m not going anywhere, regardless of when people might try to tell me otherwise and definitely, regardless of my illnesses.

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