By Kae Ramirez Lashley — My mother is Afro-Panamanian (her mother is Black, her father mestizo) and my father is Bajan (from Barbados). I identify as Black, Afro-Latina, simply Latina, West Indian, or Caribbean. I know who I am. I never try to deny my African roots. I am not more Black than Latina. I am BOTH Black and Latina. I am proud to be a black woman and as an Afro-Latina I think I am so blessed to be a part of the two best cultures there are.
I come from a family where both my Bajan and Panamanian cultures were expressed. I grew up translating for my mother and interpreting my father’s thick accent riddled with patois. Think Rihanna’s “Work” lyrics are incomprehensible? That’s exactly how my father speaks.
I dealt with the looks, the curious questioning from my white teachers, the laughs from my Mexican classmates who thought a black Latina was comical, the insults from black girls who told me I just thought I was something special or trying not to be black. I’ve been fetishized by black and white guys who think it’s so “sexy” that I’m “not like other black girls”. I’ve dealt with the Latinos who say “I’ve never dated a black girl.” I’ve dealt with college professors who look at the roster and begin to ask who in my family is Mexican upon seeing my last name Ramirez. I deal with classmates who always want me to help them cheat in Spanish class or the coworkers and boss who want me to translate but won’t offer additional funds for having a linguistic skill.
My heritage has made me a target. I’m what you call an “anchor baby”. My mother was in this country illegally when she met my father and bada-boom I appeared. Everything was okay until my mother got pregnant with my little sister. She fainted and was rushed to the ER and induced into labor. Suspicions grew after discovering my mom’s lack of employment and improper English. ICE was notified and after my sister was born, she was taken from my mom and we entered foster care.
My mother was deported to Panama and my father who was had served in the US air force and became a naturalized citizen was deported back to his native Barbados for aiding an illegal alien. Yep, you read that right. A couple was split and their kids sent to foster care. Isn’t that a bit reminiscent of slavery? To make matters worse, I was sent to live in Mississippi (where foster kids are stuck in the system until 21; I’m only 19) while my baby sister was sent to Maine and last I heard, adopted.
Then I’ve had to deal with racism. I’ve had white folks call me “nigger”, reminding me no matter where my mama is from I’m still black. I’ve heard the racist taunts, subliminal insults all based on who I am: a black woman. Life has been far from easy. A huge chunk of my life has been affected by my Afro-Latinidad. But I am so lucky to know that there others out there like me. I love who I am and I can only hope that America will educate itself and become more accepting of Afro-Latinas of all colors.
To me being Afro-Latina means having strength, courage, a certain flair, attitude, passion, and dedication to exist unapologetically in a world that fails to accurately represent us or attempts to deny our very existence. Being Afro-Latina is being a part of the two best cultures there is. I am extremely proud of who I am. It’s the best of two worlds.
Kae is serving as a guest contributor for #IAMENOUGH. She is currently in community college studying to be a cosmetologist. She hails from Sacramento, California but currently resides in Utica, Mississippi temporarily. Kae hopes to move back to the Bay Area once she recieves her license to practice cosmetology.