By Yokary Cruz-Garcia — Growing up in the Dominican Republic, people told me how lucky I was that my light-skinned father is a fourth generation Spaniard. I was the “piel morena ” with good hair, blessed because I didn’t need a “desrizado ” to straighten my hair. People made comments about my dark-skinned mother’s good fortune to “refinar la raza.” She made our family “proud” by giving birth to two children with Spaniard features.
Hearing people use terms like “advancing the race” upset me so much . Why is being black so bad? Dominicans have a hard time accepting their origins. They don’t want to admit their closeness to Haitians or accept that most of us have more African blood than Taino blood . Why is my mother’s black skin not beautiful? I had so many questions, and not many answers.
My family has a mix of color from white to black and everything in between, we are the united nations of melanin. One day, I asked my great-grandmother, the matriarch of the family, why her skin was so dark. She told me, “The sun kissed me with passion.” What a lovely way to describe her skin! She taught my mother to love her skin color as well. She taught us to embrace diversity.
Unfortunately, not everybody in my family was so accepting. I dated a guy who happened to be the same shade as my mother. Family members pulled me aside and asked me why must I disgrace my family by dating a “monkey”? They told me it was my job to refine the race, to make our family better. I was 15! Did they also think that my mom looked like a monkey?
That monkey comment was the fuel that propelled me to embrace my whole identity. I researched and read as many articles and history books as possible about the slave trade and dominican history . The more I learned, the more I understood my race. Years later, I felt comfortable saying I’m Afro-Dominican; it was liberating.
I found a YouTube video about Afro-Latinas and how it’s hard for some people to accept this dual identity. I shared the video with my friends on Facebook. I received a private messages from a family member telling me that embracing my African heritage brings shame to my family. I stop discussing race with people. I even stop posting about Christopher Columbus. It seemed as if people enjoy staying in the dark.
I married a Puerto Rican man (who has very fair skin) in June 2005. When my daughter was born in June 2006, she was born with fair skin and reddish-brown hair. I posted photos online and was flooded with positive messages. Then I got the dreaded facebook message : “Your daughter is beautiful. You followed in your mother’s footsteps and advanced the race. She is just beautiful with her fair skin and light hair.” I responded by saying how proud I am of my skin color, and how much I love my mother’s darker-the-berry skin. My daughter is beautiful, not because she is fair skin, but because her heart is beautiful.
It’s been ten years now since those comments about my child. I no longer let others define who I am. I am Afro-Dominican and proud of it. I embrace my race, my crown of curls and my brown skin. I am aware of my mixed family, and how our Dominican history has put many against blackness. Every day, more Dominicans are embracing their mixed blood and acknowledging how Africa is a big part of their culture. Slowly but surely we are waking up from deep
Yokary Cruz-Garcia is serving as a guest contributor for #IAMENOUGH blog. She is is 31 years old and was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and currently lives in New Jersey. She is a proud Afro-Dominican, mother, wife and friend.