Afro, Si! Latina? Onde? – Luana Fernandes Neely

I vividly remember the first time I heard ‘Latina’ in a way that pertained to me, I was seven and my mother was on the phone venting to my Godmother about how my school kept spelling my name wrong, “F-E-R-N-A-N-D-E-S not F-E-R-N-A-N-D-E- Z” for context, I was a predominantly Hispanic school in Arizona so the mistake was understandable and to me at the time not a big deal but to my proud Brazilian-Haitian mother it was a disrespect to her heritage, her lineage and she most definitely would not let it go.

I remember from that day onward she instilled it in me I was to correct anyone that misspelled my name or mispronounced my name immediately. She wanted me to be proud of my family, my heritage, and my history. That however was something I had to learn on my own.

I’m an army brat, I was born in New York, raised all down the East and Southern coasts from Buffalo to Boston, Columbus to Houston and little stops in-between. I was constantly changing schools and friends and environments, I was always ‘the new black girl” that’s where I fit. I fit with the black kids. Until I didn’t. That part usually came after the either the first roll was taken or after I introduced myself, “Luana? What kind of name is that?” Or perhaps the most irritating “Fernandes? Girl you’re Mexican?” Brazilian was the answer to both questions and without a doubt the next sentence was always some variation of , “Brazilian? Girl you don’t look Brazilian!”

Looking Brazilian always translated to “you don’t look like Giselle Bunchen or Adriana Lima” which is all that people thought about when they thought of Brazil, forget the fact the Brazil has the highest population of black people outside of Africa, colorists and colorism allowed the narrative that Latinas only looked like J.Lo or Selma Hayek to prevail so much so that people were willing to ignore the existence of Afro-Latinas or even more infuriating only acknowledging the presence of Afro- Latinas when they come from for lack of a better word, overtly black countries, such as countries like Haiti. As if to say, oh yes all the faces I see from there are black so it must be true.

Through my middle school and early high school years I navigated my culture in hindsight, in a very infuriating way. I seemingly separated the two to avoid conflict or confusion. I presented myself as what my idea of black was, pouring over classic black films and music from Spike Lees entire body of work to reading Malcolm X’s’ biography so thoroughly that I was ready to radicalize my friends and protest anything that didn’t allow black people to flourish freely.

Conversely, my ties to my Latin heritage weakened, the beautiful Portuguese words that once flowed so effortlessly out of my mouth were now strangled and almost foreign, the soca that I was once able to wine to without a second thought was practically nonexistent. I had managed to fully embrace half of myself while neglecting another. I had to come to the realization that I was both African and Latin and I had to learn to embrace both and live in both as openly as possible.

There was no-one other than myself that could teach me to be proud of my African ancestors that were thrusted in a foreign land and married their rich culture with another and created my culture, the culture that has me craving arroz e feijão com banana at least nine times a week, and being completely incapable of dancing if I hear a beat no matter what it is. It is my responsibility as a child of the diaspora to not only educate myself and be a representative of the many beautiful Afro-Latinx people that at one point in time may not have been secure in their Latin identity.

At this point in my life I am a proud Afro- Latina woman, I am an ever evolving blend of Caribbean and Latin blood continuing to embrace all parts of my culture.

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