Last Christmas, I went to visit my mother’s side of the family in Panama, and even before I packed my back I knew I had to leave some extra space. Everyone would get souvenirs and I had no doubt I would be bringing back a gold name plate, una plaquita. I would be buying myself something that wasn’t just pretty but distinctly Panamanian. Panama’s signature reddish gold is nearly impossible to find these days, but the beautiful designs are the same. It should be noted that people from the Caribbean and Latin America can identify each other by their jewelry; my plaquita would be a gold stamp of authenticity.
I got back to New York and got dressed for work like I always do. I was dying to wear my chain but I wasn’t sure if I should. My little gold name plate came loaded with assumptions. I’m lucky enough to work in book publishing, where the dress code is pretty liberal, but even these literary types have their limits. When I told a good friend I was having a name plate made, she jokingly called me a hoodrat hoochie mama.
I knew she wasn’t the only person who thought “hoodrat” when she saw a name plate (even if she did have her own gold ring with her name on it). And even though I’d been dying to get a name plate, I’d had my reservations; I was careful not to get anything too big and elaborate. Carrie Bradshaw may have brought name plates to the masses but even she called hood gold. Calling it hood gold is reductive, of course, but she’s wasn’t totally wrong, I don’t think. My mother explained to me that when she was growing up, mothers and grandmothers would pinch their pennies so they could give their precious little girls some gold, the necklace, the earrings, the bracelet all matching. Even poor girls need to know someone thinks they’re precious jewels.
Publishing, for the most part, is a lily-white field, so I couldn’t help but worry that my co-workers wouldn’t get that sometimes a bourgie girl likes a little hoodrat swagger, even if her parents did make her do Jack and Jill. Could my little necklace wipe away the memory of my months in pencil skirts and tasteful vintage dresses? But i figured the name plate wouldn’t be too noticeable with the button-down shirt I had on. I just put on the necklace and paired it with diamond studs, leaving the gold hoops for another day.