Growing up primarily with my Afro Cuban mother, knowing my Cuban roots was second nature. It was in the yellow rice and black beans as comfort food. It was the guayaberas my grandfather sported and the customs of my mother’s family. Growing up with my mom, I was exposed to my Cuban heritage and that was woven in with my identity,
But I also had a very active and loving father. While most people have a hard time understanding him because of his thick accent, his voice is music to my ears. I can understand the most complicated of patois and I answer effortlessly to “Wah gwan?” or “Wah you a nyam?”.
Growing up with an immigrant islander as a father afforded me a unique view of the world. As an adult, I now get to explore what it means to be West Indian with a very colorful heritage to dive into. Exploring these roots as I get older means so much to me. While I didn’t grow up eating the foods, or even identifying as West Indian, I’m now committed to making more of an effort to connect to my West Indian roots.
Whether you identify as Afro Latina or West Indian (or both like myself), all lines lead back to Africa! We are the descendants of the most resilient people who have endured the most inhumane conditions. Despite the words of a certain ill-informed American “politician”, people from countries in the Caribbean are beautiful, culturally rich, and dynamic.
My hardworking father was born and raised in the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua (and sister island, Barbuda) is situated east of Puerto Rico and north of Venezuela. It’s included in a cluster of linear islands that include Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and St. Lucia to name a few. Antigua also features some of the world’s most renown beaches; 365 of them! One for every single day of the year.
My father later relocated to St. Croix (U.S Virgin Islands) and then immigrated in hopes of attaining the “American Dream”. Since arriving to the U.S., he has become a successful entrepreneur, reggae musician and very active within his local Caribbean community here stateside. The fact that there are pockets of tiny cultures here in America who make an effort to hold on to their customs from back home, goes to show the importance of cultural exchange and why it is so vital to human existence.
As many West Indians can relate, the parents work extremely hard to provide. My father was no different. While my mother and father lovingly co-parented me across state lines, the distance made it hard for me to explore my father’s culture. I didn’t eat West Indian foods or listen a lot of the music in my mother’s home. I did know my kinky hair was way different than my mother’s long silky tresses and that I had hair like my father. I did know my father was different because of his accent, but back then if you were to ask me what it meant to be West Indian, I couldn’t divulge much.
Because I spent the majority of the time with my mom, I leaned more towards my Afro-Cuban and African-American heritage. It also didn’t help that I equated island living with the Pirates of The Caribbean movie series despite visiting St. Criox when I was 8.
Looking back, I didn’t embrace that trip the way I should have. My 8 year old mind couldn’t comprehend the significance of that trip (One of the reasons I yearn to return as an adult to properly immerse myself in the culture.) The only thing I have are tiny memories and Polaroid photographs of myself among the rolling hills and sandy shores.
Fast forward to my late high school and college years attending an HBCU. I was able to meet so many people who were so extremely proud to be from the Caribbean. The Haitians on campus were so proud as were the Jamaicans and other islanders. I made friends with girls who had an immigrant parent like me, made friends with heavy accents and ate as much saltfish, ackee, rice , peas and oxtails as humanly possible! I enjoyed Caribbean night on campus and even had crushes on boys from the islands (an ongoing attraction) . There was a vivaciousness and high sense of pride that I admired.
Being reintroduced to that part of me was such a blessing. It was a touch of home because I missed my father so much and I had a desire to reconnect to my roots. Years later, I can see that each experience I did have played a big part in me embracing my identity.
Now as an adult, I make an effort to get to know my West Indian roots. I wear my Cruzian hook bracelet, stock my home with Caribbean foods and art, have a collection of Islander friends, hot pepper sauce in the fridge and consider myself as an Afro Cuban-Caribbean queen of sorts!
While endless sunshine and sandy beaches come to mind, so does some of the rough times. My heart broke at the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Irma. In the face of unspeakable damage, West Indians have joined together proudly to rebuild their homes. They have suffered greatly without the very things we take for granted from day to day. Despite all odds, they thrive time and time again. That grit and determination runs through my veins too and for that, I’m proud.
It was so important for me to reconnect to my heritage, not only for myself, but also for my future children. My future babies, by birth alone, will be mainly West Indian. I even started the process of gaining dual citizenship for Antigua & Barbuda through my father so that they have some ownership.
That is my birthright. Passing who I am along to my children will be apart of their identity and birthright. I did this for them.
Today I’m equally as proud to be Afro-Latina as I am to be West Indian. It’s never too late to uncover your story. It’s never too late to embrace your roots and continue to add to the colorful tapestry that is YOU.
Kayla B. is a contributor for #IAmEnough. She is a proud Afro-Latina and the founder and blogger for Saltlight and Co.