“My name is Captain so and so where are you from?”
“I’m your flight attendant Kisha, I’m from Arkansas.”
“No you aren’t.”
At this point I roll my eyes. Introducing yourself to your crew is customary in the aviation world. You want to know who you are working with. For me though it always got awkward. I grew up in Arkansas, but I never felt connected to Arkansas. I don’t speak with a southern accent so nobody ever believes me. If you want to be honest I don’t even speak like anybody I know.
I was born in Panama, my family is Panamanian. We moved to Arkansas when I was in the 6th grade.
“Well, technically I’m from Panama by way of Arkansas”
“You look like you are something.”
I honestly don’t even know what any of that means. My entire life I’ve been told I speak “proper.” Or people are trying to figure out why a black person can speak Spanish.
Growing up in Arkansas was different for me. The term Afro-Latina wasn’t even something I heard of until I was older. I never felt like I belonged. I always felt like there was something missing.
People automatically assumed if you spoke Spanish then you were Mexican. They didn’t know you could be black and a Latino. I took Spanish in school and I always felt bad that I didn’t have to think about the answers. Because for some reason I felt ashamed, I saw how my mother was treated and I felt bad for being able to speak two languages. When my mother spoke to me in Spanish I would answer in English. My mother was a maid at a hotel, but so were the other Latina ladies. It was the only job any of them could get.
I remember there were times people used to tell me we floated over here on a tire. I always wished I was the same, but I was different. Looking back I wish I would have embraced it more. Instead I spent most of my youth trying to fit in. I would go to school emulating the styles I saw black women wear. I wanted to straighten my curly hair, dance the way they danced, talk the way they talked. I would go home and eat rice every night. Listen to my mom blast salsa music and watch telenovelas every night.
The only difference between now and when I was a child is that now I am fully aware of who I am. I am a proud Afro Latina and I speak Spanish every chance I get. No one will ever make me feel ashamed of who I am again. Back then I never knew what to say when people asked why I looked a little different or sounded different. Times have changed though so I make sure I teach my son about our culture every chance I get.
Now here I am as an adult, living in Dallas, explaining why I am a black woman who looks like “they are something.”
Kisha Gulley is a proud Afro-Latina wife, mother and former flight flight attendant. She was born in Panama, raised in Little Rock currently resides in Dallas.