By: Monique Soto — I am a proud Black and Puerto Rican – an Afro Latina! It has taken a long time for me to love and accept my heritage and descent until this point in my life. I had my fair share of identity struggles. My father is Puerto Rican from Rio Grande Puerto Rico and my mother is African American from Brooklyn, New York. I didn’t grow up with my father or raised with any Puerto Rican culture because my parents split when I was six years old. That’s around the time my mother and I moved to North Carolina.
Growing up I always knew that I was half Puerto Rican but since my Mother never talked about my Father, I wasn’t sure of how to say that I was also Puerto Rican. Then finally, in 2008 I was reunited with my father. We had found each other on Facebook. Throughout high school, people hung out in groups and I wanted to hang out with other Latinos but I didn’t have the hair texture or fluency in speaking Spanish.
I had a couple of Puerto Rican friends in high school that I hung out with but my black friends thought I was solely hanging with them because I was lighter skin. I was called a “wannabe” and told that I thought I was better than them. Throughout the years I gained more confidence in saying that was half Latina but then the questions came. Why don’t you speak Spanish? I was afraid to say that my father wasn’t in the picture and my identity to my Latino heritage was obsolete.
When I married my husband, who is Puerto Rican, I started wanting to be closer to the part of me who didn’t identify with the culture. I wanted to proudly display that I am too of Puerto Rican descent. Every time I was introduced they would mention that my Father was Puerto Rican and I didn’t speak Spanish. After awhile that introduction had gotten old. I had become so frustrated, it made me feel angry about life’s hand.
I dealt with not growing up with my father which affected my connection to my Puerto Rican roots. Not having long curly hair like many other Hispanic/ Latinos conflicted with my cultural identity. Being teased by my Black family member about my image and hair texture and ability to talk Spanish to them didn’t qualify me to claim my Afro-Latinidad. I experienced many instances where I was told by a Puerto Rican when I tried to relate that “ Hey I am Puerto Rican also!”. I automatically was checked into a box or not considered a real Boricua. For that reason, I began to avoid questions about my identity and ethnicity. I picked and chose who I told that I was half Latina to.
This was before I started hearing about the Afro – Latina community where people were representing and embody their African ancestry. I knew it was my time to finally embrace all of me and it was cemented on my first visit to Puerto Rico. While on the way to meet my uncle and family in the Rio Grande, myself and others drove by the town of Loiza and I was so amazed that there were people of color that were darker-skinned. Someone pointed out and said, “Look there are your people, the Black people”. I thought aren’t they Puerto Rican’s too? I felt so offended, and thought about my whole image of being a Latina was wrong. Because there are more skin tones other than what you see on television and the media.
Seeing and hearing from more Afro-Latinas with various skin tones, hair textures, and backgrounds who are representing their cultures and themselves has helped me. It’s a beautiful feeling that I am no longer confused about who I am, and what I should look like. I am proud to say I am Afro-Latina.
Monique Soto is an Afro- Latina with African American and Puerto Rican heritage. She is married with three children from Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is a professional make-up artist of 17 years as well as a licensed cosmetologist and business owner of MBM Artistry LLC. Monique is a 2020 graduate for her Associate’s Degree in Applied Science. She has helped aspiring models develop their portfolio, and in the process, has developed an impressive one of her own. Her ever-growing client list allows her to hone her skills, and stay abreast of modern trends. Her work has taken her on location for magazine photoshoots, fashion shows such as New York Fashion Week, weddings and editorial creativity.