Tessa Thompson Shares How Her Mexican Mother Helped Her Take Pride In Her Blackness: 'She Wanted Me To Be Brave'

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Lauren Porter Mar, 02, 2018

During her childhood, Tessa Thompson was faced with her fair share of challenges as she navigated life as a biracial woman in America. 

The Los Angeles, California native shared a poignant story about her upbringing and the important lesson she learned about her blackness at the hands of her mother, while being honored during the 11th annual ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood luncheon. 

“I want to acknowledge someone who is not Black and is not in the room because she couldn’t be, but it’s my mother,” the actress began. “Her father, my grandfather, was of Mexican descent. He was a performer in a time where there were very few of them. He was the only, very often, and I think because of this, he had a real pressure to assimilate because he didn’t want my mother to speak Spanish.”

Thompson was born in the mid-80s to an Afro-Panamanian father and a mother of Mexican descent. 

“My mom is a woman of color even though she might not be readily identified as such and I feel like because of that, she always gave me space to explore my identity; get in touch with who I am. She understood the void of not having enough guidance, in that. Even though she is not a Black woman, throughout my life, she filled me with such pride of being one.”

The actress, who has appeared in For Colored Girls, Selma, Creed, Dear White People and more continued, “She told me that my broad features and my brown skin looked beautiful when classmates did their best to convince me otherwise. She went to a beauty supply store with me, where she bought an eco relaxer, which we were prepared to apply together. But she was proud and patient when I decided I wanted to keep my then crusty, crunchy, over-gelled curls. Because she realized that being the fullest expression of yourself is an act of bravery. She wanted me to be brave and because of her, I aim to be.”

Thompson stars in the HBO series Westworld and will next appear on the big screen in Avengers: Infinity War. 

The 2018 ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Awards airs Saturday, March 3, at 10 p.m. on OWN TV.