When I think of this word, it holds so much weight. Everything a person does is rooted in their identity. Identity to me is not so cut and dry, but ever evolving. When a baby is born, they are given a name. Their name serves as a building block to their identity. When that child grows older they learn more about themselves to add to this experience. But what if your very identity was a mystery waiting to be discovered?
My experience becoming acquainted with my roots as an Afro-Cuban has been one of the most liberating and joyous times of my life.
Caught in the balance between two worlds, I always identified and felt black, but knew there was something else to be discovered. I embraced my African features and the way my kinky hair coiled up when it got wet. I also took note to my pecan colored skin, bone structure and lips that seemed to come from another source.
My mother had the same facial structure and dark almond shaped eyes as me, but her hair was fine and silky. My father on the other hand had the same hair as me, but his skin was darker than mines.I inherited the best of both worlds, one obviously African but the other one seemingly shrouded in mystery. I would later learn that it was never hidden, but I had been exposed to my Cuban roots my entire life.
That’s when I went searching for answers.
My discovery as to my identity as an Afro-Cuban started in middle school when we had a project to research our heritage and wear a traditional outfit and bring a food from our respective culture. I was born and raised in Tampa Florida, a hub for Afro-Cubans who migrated from the sugar cane fields of Cuba and the cigar factories of Key West. I reached out to my grandfather who I take after and discovered I am Afro-Cuban.
We discussed how his father’s father came here from Cuba as a cigar maker and how he later became a founding father of the Afro-Cuban Club in Tampa.I imagined how he played a role in the revolution and how much courage it took to leave the only place he’s known to make a life in America. We discussed the foods that I’ve been eating my entire life. The roasted chicken, black beans and yellow rice that I consider comfort foods.I took to the internet to search what Cubans look like and what I found made me feel like a child who has finally met their long lost relatives.
I saw photos of brown women like me with their beautiful perched and full lips. Women with long hair like my mother’s, men who dressed in “guayaberas” like my grandfather. An entire island with people who looked jus8t like me. It was one of the most gratifying times of my life. Finally, I had a place to belong. Equally as Cuban as I was African. For my project I donned a beautiful linen skirt and a head wrap and treated my classmates to my aunt’s homemade guava jelly – a Cuban favorite.
My experience as an Afro-Latina has been met with much resistance from my misinformed brothers and sisters from both the Latino and the black community. To some, I’m selling out by recognizing my Latin roots and to the other side, I’m far too African to be recognized as part Latina. Because I don’t have the typical features of a Latina that the media shows, that seems to negate the blood that dances in my veins. These two worlds have more in common than they know. A lot of Latino’s roots reach back to Africa as are their foods and customs do also. Son, the base of salsa has its roots in African drum beats. Cuba’s rituals and religion has base in Yoruban culture. From the cooking to the culture, Cuba and Africa are one.
I am represented by Antonio Maceo, the ‘Bronze Titan’ revolutionary. I’m represented by powerhouse singer, Celia Cruz. I am just as Cuban as I am black and cannot be more proud. I recognize there is so much work to improve the social justice in my black & Latin community. Both communities are underserved and most times overlooked, but my hope is that brown people and black people will follow natural order and team up for good. I imagine a world where I can raise my future daughter to feel embraced by her Afro-Latin community and for her to embrace others and their cultures.
Socially speaking blacks and Latinos are the same in America. Our experiences mirrors one another. We face similar issues, are discriminated against and have to face a world that counts us out before we even take our first step. We have to fight harder than ever to improve our community so that generations after us has a fair chance.I imagine a world where we learn to love each other and contribute to the tapestry that is the human race. I often times wonder if my great grandfather would be proud of me. His Kaylita, a revolutionary like his own father, making noise in a static world.
I’m so proud to be Afro Cuban. To feel the music and culture dancing in my veins. The beat of the African drum in my heart. To know that Africa and Cuba played pivotal roles in the love story that gave birth to me and other Afro Latinas.Somewhere out there in the heavens, I know my family is looking down on me and they are so proud of not only what I’ve done, but who I am.
Kayla Boronell is serving as a guest contributor for #IAMENOUGH.She is a proud Afro-Latina and the Founder and Blogger for Saltlight and Co.