This topic has come up a lot in recent years. Women, and men but mostly women, accepting their Afro-Latina background.
I found out I was half Latina when I was in elementary school. The minute I found out my moms side of the family was from Panama, I was so excited. I could add another nationality to my already Jamaican and American background. I wanted to know everything. Food, Language, Dress, Everything.
Two years later? I was in 6th grade and we had to do a project about our nationalities. My school was very diverse and this was the first time I went to school with people of different backgrounds. I was excited to share with people that I was American born and half Jamaican and half Panamanian. My classmates were shocked. “You don’t look Spanish”, “Do you speak the language?” “Your hair is long, but you have a perm.” Well of course I knew that I didn’t look Latina. On a trip to Panama, I realized that I looked very different than my cousins who are fully Panamanian by the way.
My mom is also Afro Latina because her dad is Black and I looked like her. We have curly hair, long eyelashes and our shape screams Latina. When I got to high school is when I was able to really embrace my Afro Latina background. My friend Maria is Dominican, fluent in Spanish, thick accent but by looking at her people would say…she’s Black. Maria and I used to bond over similarities in our Latina families. The food, the music, the culture.
One day I met another Panamanian and Jamaican mix at school. And even though we were the same mix, she looked so much different. I was telling her about how I had a hard time identifying with my Latina side. Actually it wasn’t that I was having a hard time identifying, it was having to explain to people that even though my hair wasn’t long and straight I was still part Latina.
Some of my colleagues in college are also Afro Latina and again we all look different. We’ve talked about how people have tried to make us erase that part of ourselves because we don’t “look” it or speak the language fluently. But it’s still a part of us. And I won’t erase it for anyone.
I have conversations in Spanglish with my wela and I’m trying to learn it fluently. When I have a little me, he or she is also going to learn to embrace their culture. They will learn the language, listen to the music, eat the food and visit the country.
We cannot allow people to dictate to us what we are and we aren’t just because we don’t fit their description of what it is.
Thanks for listening.