Being black and Latino is challenging, beautiful and unique.
In a Q&A for his 2011 PBS documentary “Black In Latin America,” Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. said:
There were 11.2 million Africans that we can count who survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World, and of that 11.2 million, only 450,000 came to the United States. That’s amazing.
I moved to the US at the age of 14. At an age when teenagers are supposed to discover their identity. I was full of fears, uncertainty and going through an identity crisis. I has lost my identity early on because I wanted to look like everyone else. I was of darker complexion and most of my childhood I really wanted to be white like my dad. But, even worse, I wanted to be like everyone else. When I was 12 my mom felt obligated to put my hair through the ultimate appropriation by relaxing it. Relaxing hair was to apply harsh chemicals to my hair to make it smoother, straighter, but mostly manageable. She had fought it for so long… but my feeling of inferiority started to show. Mami loved me so much, and she just wanted me to be happy.
I stopped getting teased, and I was one of them. Them… the girls with the long beautiful soft hair that moved when the wind would blow. I was no longer needing to have my hair twisted and braided up because it was hard to manage. It took 20 years for me to understand the beauty behind it all. That my tangled hair was part of my identity given to me by God, and taming it was not necessary.
As I pondered on what to share with all of you, I found that there are 17+ shades of brown in the world. I look at my family and can see every shade of brown. Our roots cannot be untangled by the boxes the world wants us to check. I want to share 17 experiences as a Black Latina, in all my shades of brown…
These are my 17 afro-latina experiences
- My hair. Beautiful, curly, tangled, frieze, and natural. Believe me, standing out because of hair is not always great. Everyone has an opinion, some great and encouraging… others not so great. As much as I love my hair, some days I don’t love it so much, and having people making negative comments just adds to the fuel. But, I am committed to stay true to my roots… even on “bad hair days”.
- Here in the Unites States… I discovered a world of difficulties with my identity. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I finally embraced my true self as an Afro-Latina.
- A beautiful african, latina, brown woman with messy hair and the ability to speak two languages. A woman who loves her African roots just as much as she loves her rice and beans. I embrace my Afro-Latinidad everyday wearing it with pride because once upon a time, I didn’t know who I was.
- I love that nobody knows where I am from when they first look at me. People from all parts of the world have asked me if I am from their country, and I find this fascinating.
- My skin. It is the perfect shade of brown for ME. I started loving my skin color in my late teens. Yup, you guessed it when my friends made comments about how they wish to have my skin tone and not have to go tanning.
- My Spanglish. It has always been frustrating for me to feel like I can’t speak Spanish. People have at one point or another asked to not speak Spanish because they felt “excluded”. So, I have tried to be conscious of others because I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad. But, then realized… sometimes I am just comfortable speaking Spanish. It is a part of me.
- I do not have to choose if I am black or Latina… I am both. I am rich in culture and it makes me proud.
- The diversity of black identity is often oversimplified. Just because people are both doesn’t mean they are less of one.
- I was never black enough for some people, or Latina enough for others…
- I will never choose sides because I am mutually inclusive when it comes to issues related to Latinos, and to black people… I am both. We all experience similar struggles and it would be dumb to choose one.
- I support all Afro-Latinos and have a sense of unity with them because we get each other.
- I’ve experienced racism for being black and Latina.
- While I embrace my African roots… I would love to know exactly where my ancestors are from in Africa.
- I love discussions about race and ethnicity. I believe we learned the most when we have those conversations.
- I get uncomfortable when people touch my hair in public settings. However, I have no problem letting people who love me play with my hair… there is a difference.
- I feel proud of any black/brown girl who dares to rock their natural hair. It is not easy people.
- If I was to be born again as anything…. I hope I will still be and Afro-Latina.
Tell me about your experiences as an Afro-Latina or ask any questions!