By: Eleni Constantinou
My favorite color is turquoise. I realize this as I allow my feet to dangle off the side of a high cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Paphos, Cyprus, where the goddess Aphrodite was supposedly born out of the seafoam.
My mind flashes back to a few summers ago, when I had my first camp counselor experience at Agios Nikolaos Tis Stegis Camp in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus. I remember seeing my cabin for the first time—a group of twelve middle school aged girls, their faces resembling Cyprus’ long history of colonization. I take a moment to reflect how even though these girls may have Venetian, Assyrian, and/or Phoenician ancestry, we all identify as Greek Cypriots. We are all unique patches of that turquoise Mediterranean Sea.
This moment of reflecting upon the mixing of genotypes in Cyprus is contrasted as my mind reels back at the memory of ninth grade French class. My French teacher would continuously dock points off of my exams because even though I answered correctly, I was somehow not good enough. Growing up in Easton, Massachusetts, I was often the darkest skinned student in my class. Some people thought I was Indian, and others guessed Egyptian. I tried explaining to my French teacher that my favorite color was turquoise, that I was just one example of what a Cypriot looked like. I desperately assured her that my mother was pale with green eyes, that Cyprus was actually a White European country, that my olive skin tone was not a threat. But my dark curls and brown eyes did not fool her prejudice.
I then remember my first camp counselor experience again. Irene stuck out. Her mother was Philippino and her father was Cypriot. Her mother left her at a young age. I remember comforting Irene as she cried herself to sleep every night. Every morning, I assured her that she is loved, and that her nightmares would not come true. When Irene felt inadequate to include herself in the company of her peers, I told and retold Irene why my favorite color is turquoise. We are all drops of life in the Mediterranean Sea. No matter our specific shade of turquoise, we are all made of two hydrogens bonded to one oxygen.
I learned everything I taught Irene from my first-hand experiences. When I was in second grade, a boy named Jacob started pretending to sneeze when he came near me, claiming that he was “allergic to Black people.” I sat there stunned and confused, because prior to this experience, I thought I was White. I wish I knew that in a few more years, I would discover that my favorite color is actually turquoise instead of naïve red.
Before my first camp counselor experience ended, Irene entrusted me with a heavy secret. This young twelve-year-old girl has endured years of bullying for the most ridiculous, blood-boiling reasons. Irene has constantly been told by her fellow classmates that she is dirty, an outsider, someone who was not—and will never be—good enough. A few months prior, Irene attempted to commit suicide, but stopped herself when she realized the substantial physical pain caused by stabbing herself in the hand with a sharp kitchen knife. It was in that moment that she considered the emotional pain her grandmother would have to endure seeing her beloved grandchild dead. I have not talked to Irene since that summer, but I hope she remembers why my favorite color is turquoise.
As my mind focuses back to my present task of writing my honors thesis, I take a more analytical approach to my Cypriot identity and heritage. For centuries, populations have interacted and mixed, creating one Cyprus filled with diversity, yet unity.