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

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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.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment where you experienced intolerance or inaccessibility. What needs to happen to change this? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: July 12, 2016
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