By Crisma Petatan — “One of the questions I get asked the most is “What are you?” I am asked this question after I start speaking Spanish. I have brown skin and afro hair. When people see me, they see a black woman and black women in America only speak English right? Well that is what most people believe. When I tell them I am Afro-Mexican, they give me a confused look. I get asked, “So which parent is black and which one is Mexican?” Being Afro-Mexican does not mean I am mixed by having one black parent and one mexican parent. Both of my parents were born and raised in the Mexican state of Guerrero. My parents immigrated to the United States in the late 80s. They eventually settled in Santa Ana, California, which is predominantly a Latino community.
I did not realize I was different from other Latinos until I started kindergarten. I remember being in class and looking at all the other kids. No one else looked like me and my brother. There were a few other kids that had my skin color but they had straight hair. I wanted to blend in with everyone else but instead I stood out. That caused me to get teased and be discriminated against by my classmates. There were certain girls who wouldn’t play with me because I was the “black girl.” My classmates asked me questions like, “Why is your hair like that?” “Why are you brown?” and “Are you black?”
I asked my mom if we were black and she said, “No somos negros, nosotros somos mexicanos.” I asked her, “Porque mi pelo no esta lacio como las otras niñas?” and she said, “Tu eres diferente.” Because of this, I grew up hating my hair. I wanted it to be straight so my mother started using a relaxer on my hair when I was in 4th grade. From that point on, I never allowed my natural curls to show. It was my way of hiding my blackness. In the Hispanic community, there is racism against us with darker complexions and afro hair. We are seen as less valuable and less attractive. They call us the same names such as “negro/a”, “prieto/a” and “moreno/a.” The names don’t bother me, it is more of how it is said to me in a negative way. Even older family members would make comments like “Ya te estas poniendo mas negra.” So during summer, I would not go outside without sunscreen on because I did not want my complexion to get darker.
All of the negative comments caused me to become an insecure teenager. I never felt like I belonged in the Mexican community. It didn’t matter that I spoke Spanish. It didn’t matter that my mom cooked the same mexican foods. It didn’t matter that I knew how to dance banda. Nothing of that mattered because I was constantly judged by the color of my skin and the texture of my hair. I went through depression and low self-esteem during high school. Whenever I had issues with girls, they would always insult me by calling my hair “nappy” and calling me “negra.” When it came to dating, guys would tell me that I would be prettier if I wasn’t “morena.”
After high school, I went through a phase of trying to find myself. One day I was going to buy a relaxer to put on my roots but then I asked myself, “Why?” Why do I continue to put chemicals in my hair? Why does society only view straight hair as beautiful? Why is that set as the standard of beauty? Why is my brown skin not good enough? I was tired of relaxing my hair. I was tired of putting sunscreen on. I was tired of it all. That day, I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off my hair. I was left with less than one inch but you could finally see my small curls! I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “This is who I really am. No more hiding. No more trying to fit in. This is me.”
Since then, I have been wearing my hair in its natural state. I let the afro out and don’t care how many people stare at me. I don’t wear sunscreen. I embrace my melanin. My skin was made for the sun. I enjoy tanning now. I have never felt more beautiful and more confident. There is nothing that anyone can say to me to make me feel insecure again. I have found myself. I even asked my mother about our family history and she finally admitted that we came from descendants of African slaves.
I researched the region my parents are from and found out during the 16th century, Acapulco became a center for slave trade when the Spanish were in control. The slaves that managed to escape formed their own communities in the southern and western parts of the region. That is why people from Guerrero and Oaxaca, also known as La Costa Chica, usually have brown skin and afro hair. It all made sense now. But why is it that no one acknowledges Afro-Mexicans? It wasn’t until 2015, that Afro-Mexicans were included in the Mexican census. Before then, we were the forgotten minority group. We are a group of people that matter.
We exist! We are HERE and I am one of the voices trying to be heard.
Hello, my name is Crisma Petatan. I am 27 years old and currently live in Los Angeles. I am an aspiring singer-songwriter. I identify as Afro-Mexicana.