By Keyanna Gotay- Growing up as a young girl, I never thought of myself any different from others. That changed when my family and I moved down south from New York. Besides people constantly asking where I was from because of my then New York accent, people couldn’t seem to wrap their mind around the fact that my family and I were black people that were from a Spanish speaking country.
It was frustrating having to explain to people that although I am black with 3c hair I am Latina. It’d get even more complicated whenever my mom would speak to me in our native language; Garifuna around those that spoke Spanish. Middle school was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. It seemed like everyone was just put into specific categories that I didn’t fit in, I wasn’t African American, Caucasian or Mexican.
So as the average pre-teen I went through an identity crisis. High school came around and I slowly became more confident in myself and would share about my culture with classmates that wanted to learn however there were several ignorant comments that didn’t allow to be as comfortable with expressing that I was a Honduran Garifuna-American.
When I started my first year in college, I had told myself since I was attending a historically black university better known as HBCU, that I would try to blend in whether this meant acting like Spanish wasn’t my first language, avoiding wearing anything that made me stand out as a Latina, etc.
The plan of me blending in failed within the first hour of move in day. My roommate and I moved in at the same time and my family had helped move me in. Spanish being my mother’s dominant language; she spoke to me the entire move in process in Spanish, y bueno (and well) I had no choice but to respond to her in Spanish. Later on, that day my roommate asked questions about where my family was from, whether I was fluent in Spanish, etc.
Basically, by the end of year everyone knew I was the black “foreign” girl that spoke Spanish. The second semester of my first year I joined an organization for Africans, those of the diaspora and or wanted to learn of the culture. I fell in love, because I had finally found people that somewhat had a similar culture to mine. Time went by and when I was reaching my senior year I wanted to feel more comfortable in my skin, I wanted to teach others about blacks in Latin American countries.
These feelings lead up to me beginning an organization on campus, Águilas Afro-Latino (águilas meaning eagles in Spanish; our mascot.) The amount of support and people that would contact me with questions about Afro-Latinos was amazing. Thanks to my amazing organization advisor I met Yvette Modestín and Dr. Sheila Walker, through the organization I was able to meet other Afro-Latinos. Starting the organization had been one of the best decisions I had made since attending school.
As founder and president of the organization, I had realized that I didn’t have any shirts that stated that I identified as Afro-Latina. I had shirts that showed I identified as black, Garifuna and even Honduran. I had realized I had plenty of Ankara outfits, but nothing with being Afro-Latina. One day I was looking online and I didn’t find a variety of Afro-Latina shirts, I had found one but it was about being an Afro-Latina natural; while I am natural I wear extensions for the most part so I wanted a shirt I could wear when I was rocking Peruvian straight hair. After being inspired, I had decided to start a t-shirt line for women of color with Afro-Latinas being the target population.
It was a process coming up with a name and slogan and I settled with Brown Sugar & Canela “For strong women with a strong heritage.” I wanted the name to describe me and other Afro-Latinas, brown and sweet, I also wanted to incorporate both languages that I am fluent in; English and Spanish. We have had several designs in the almost two months that business has begun.
We have designs for those that identify as Afro-Latina, Central American and Garifuna. While our business was for women the Central American and Garifuna shirts are unisex. We are working on many more designs so all support is and has been greatly appreciated.
Shirts are available for purchase at http://www.brownsugarandcanela.com
Facebook as Brown Sugar & Canela
My message to anyone reading this piece, is that you are indeed more than enough, find yourself, learn about your ancestors. Once you find yourself you become unstoppable!
Keyanna Gotay, 22 year old born in the Bronx, NY to Garifunas from Honduras but raised in North Carolina is a social work major, entrepreneur and YouTuber. She uses her platforms to speak on Afro-Latinx issues, growing up as a black Latina and on her culture; Garifuna.