There are many young women of our generation who are dedicating their time and energy to educating, discussing and empowering others about the Afro-Latina experience. We must recognize and celebrate, those who play a significant role in informing people about who we are. As we are in the month of March, also known as Women’s History Month, we must appreciate those who have paved the way for women, but also shine a light on those making a difference in their communities today.
Today #IAMENOUH, wants to highlight, Kimberly Roman, a young woman who has created a space for Afro-Latinidad’s at SUNY New Paltz. Roman founded the organization Afro-Latina Leaders of The Future, which creates a platform for Afro-Latin@ realities to be heard. Roman discussed her personal experiences identifying with the Afro-Latina community as well as her organizations objectives and mission.
What does being Afro-Latina signify to you?
Kimberly Roman : To me it basically means that I am kind of a melody of two cultures. Being Latina is more of a ethnicity or nationality and saying I am Afro -Latina is a way of reclaiming my blackness.
I realized that it has been so historically unrepresented in my culture, especially as a Dominican woman; we try so hard to erase and hide our African roots even though they are so predominant in our culture. By calling myself an Afro-Latina, is its own little revolution and just saying it I am acknowledging my blackness and there is nothing deniable about it.
When did you begin embracing your Afro-Latina?
KR: I think when I came my first semester I really identified as being black woman. Especially, because I was in to Black Studies and I still am. Yes, I am a black woman; but I was finding that my identity as a black woman didn’t take into account my diaspora connections. Coming from the Caribbean and coming from a Spanish speaking household, that narrative differed. So it was defiantly my second semester of college.
Why was it prominent to create an Afro-Latina organization at your university?
KR: At my university we have a lot of clubs like the African Women Alliance, which I was apart of for a while, and the Latin American Student Union. We have all these organizations; we have a large Dominican population on campus, but none of them spoke to my individual experience. What I said earlier was; I knew I was a black woman I joined the African Women Alliance. This was my experience but I realized everybody’s was very different, whether it be from the color of my skin, or the texture of my hair. Even though we had a lot of commonalities it was this distinctive kind of like Latin influence in my identity that wasn’t there and wasn’t being represented.
I wanted a space to speak about it. So, when I went to the Latin American Student Union they were speaking about identity. I didn’t know much about this heavy Spain influence on how they spoke Spanish and the way they looked. I said well, I don’t look like them, I don’t sound like them, but I know I am Latina. I was like, I look like a Black woman and I sound like a black woman, but they are missing that kind of narrative. I needed a formulated space where we can talk about me in particular and I realize there are so many women and men on this campus that needed that space too; and it kind of just took off from there.
What was the process in creating Afro-Latina leaders of the future?
KR: We have to do a chartering process. So, first it was a group of me and my friends and I said I am going to make this club for us. So, I was like before we charter this paper work, why don’t we see if anybody would even be interested in it. We did the club and involvement fair and were able get 70 signatures, so I was like there is obviously people that want this on this campus and are interested. Then I did the chartering paper work and we presented and we got approve. Then we did our first program which is our general interest. Then we did our first actual educational program which was, “Am I pretty yet?” talking about Eurocentric beauty ideals and how they impact the Afro -Latina identity and from there it kind of took off.
What does Afro-Latina Leaders of the Future do? Events, Educate, Panels, Discussions?
KR: Our main focus is basically to do interactive educational programming on campus. So what this looks like is, we had a program like two weeks ago talking about, how Afro-Latinidad and our cultural norms tie into the work place and we have a program coming up talking about colonization through last name and what our last names means.
So we try to make our programs interactive as possible we have an interactive piece, a discussion piece, and an informational piece whether that is a PowerPoint or Presentation. Then we have an interaction piece, where will have people perform a task. Then we will have a discussion meeting at the end where we kind of wrap up and talk about what does this mean, and how we are going to use this information to push us forward.
How prevalent is raising awareness for you? How is your org. doing that now?
KR:I honestly think that before I got to college my cultural identity a lot of the times wasn’t as important because I went to a school that was predominantly black and Latino. There are a lot of people who are like me and then we were all a little different but very similar. So, I never had to ask myself what does it mean to be Afro Latina. Then I got to a predominately white campus and people were asking me questions about my culture that I didn’t even understand I knew about. They would say you don’t look Spanish, now I know cause I’m not Spanish. They would say were you don’t look Spanish and say I have friends from Spain and they don’t look like you. And then I would say I am black and they would say you don look like a typical Black American girl.
There were a lot of questions that were confusing me and kind of gating my identity and my experience cause a lot of people were basically telling me you’re not this. I was like, well on this campus I need to know who I am and I need to be able to bring awareness to people within my community. Also, bring awareness to people outside my community it was really, really, really important for me as well. Coming from the city, I wanted to be able to learn more about myself so I can go back and teach more about those people. The reason I want to be a teacher is because I want to be able to understand where a student is coming from, what their experiences are like and why they do what they do.
Representation is really, really, really important, and it’s like if they never come to a program, or never come to anything that we throw, or never get involved with us in any way possible the fact that we exist is enough.
So what would you like to see for the future of the Afro-Latina community?
KR: I think there is definitely a bridge that I would like to the Afro-Latina community to understand which, is realizing that we need both. A lot of the Afro-Latina community struggles with creating a cultural history because, our history is so bottled we have no written down history of when this identity came across. I think we need to build our ties with our Latino brothers and sisters in that area and with our black brothers and sisters and kind of strengthen that alliance so we can work on bigger issues like, racism outside of our community.
A lot of things that I really want to see of the Afro- Latino community is to not strip anyone else away their identity it’s like they aren’t dark enough, or oh you don’t speak Spanish. The people that always try to strip someone of their identity; it’s like the same thing you’re trying to help you being detrimental of that. I know so many women that come to the Afro-Latina organization and there like I don’t speak Spanish can I still come in; Afro-Latinidad is past Spanish colonization, being more inclusive is something we need to work on.
“Being Latina is more of a ethnicity or nationality and saying I am Afro -Latina is a way of reclaiming my blackness.”
Photos : Courtesy of the Afro -Latina Leaders of The Future & Kimberly Roman