By Jenay Wright – From the east coast New York, to the Caribbean in the Dominican Republic and across to Finland in Europe. You will meet individuals like Paloma Sandberg, an Afro-Dominicana raised in Finland bringing visibility for Afro – Finns and amplifying Black voices that exist there. Her Afro-Latinidad and Black Finn pride is one that she wears proudly and she is doing tremendous work to fight for equality and representation.
Like Afro-Latinos it has been a similar experience for Afro-Finns also being erased and underrepresented. The African Diaspora has dispersed and impacted areas over the land and seas. The culture and traditions is deeply rooted and instilled in many of our lives and souls. It is up to us as a society to preserve where we come from and embrace fully who we are. There is no reason to hide the gift that runs through our bloods and veins. This is Blackness, it is truly vital to reclaim and continuously share Black narratives.
What does Afro-Latinidad mean to you?
The term Afro-Latinx came to an existence a bit later in my life. I’m happy that it did because to me Afro-Latinidad means accepting and embracing my Black side. Being proud about it and not hiding it. It’s also a way to let others know that I have acknowledged the diaspora that I come from.
Who are AfroFinns to those who may not be aware ?
AfroFinns are people who are of African descent which includes those who could be born in Finland or migrated to Finland. A person who has both or one parent from Africa or some other way has roots in Africa. (like for example Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean)
How was growing up Afro – Dominican in Finland?
I moved to Finland with my mother when I was six years old. The shift from the Dominican Republic to Finland was the polar opposite and as a young child I noticed the differences right away. Although I really didn’t think about my identity that much in DR because everybody else around me looked like me, that definitely changed when we moved here. There’s a lot of good memories when I think about my childhood in Finland.
Like when we went to my grandfather’s cottage and he taught me how to fish and row the boat. Or how me and my best friend learned how to play Ice hockey in the frozen field with sticks and a pine cone. Beautiful summers with family and friends, swimming, going saunas and enjoying nature. But race became an issue in my life very early on, mainly because in Finland I constantly got the question “But you can’t be Finnish. Where are you REALLY from?” So it got me feeling that I don’t belong.
Did you ever experience any obstacles with your cultural identity? How did you overcome those challenges?
Growing up both in DR and in Finland my identity derived from my Finnish & Dominican heritage rather than my skin color. Needless to say I had trouble finding my identity because of the lack of positive representation and the daily effects of racism in Finland. It took a long road from me wanting to have blond straight hair and blue eyes to all the years wanting to assimilate into every white space I was at to really embracing my Blackness and my roots. I just wanted to belong and blend in. Then going back to DR or New York to see my fathers side of the family I noticed that because I don’t speak Spanish as fluently I feel different there as well. So many times I had a feeling that I’m somewhere in between. That I am not Dominican enough nor Finnish enough.
I overcame these challenges little by little. Of course I’m still going through my healing process and having a strong support system around me really helps a lot. I can say that within the last few years, starting in my early twenties I really came through accepting myself. It took a lot of practice and finding people through social media who look like me and who I look up to. But I can say that when I found my community and the first time I stepped into Good Hair Day. I finally felt that I could breathe.
What’s your thoughts on anti-blackness within the Latinx community?
I think especially now since the Black Lives Matter – movement that has affected many of us globally has made people think and has forced people to have these important conversations around Anti-blackness and how we can dismantle it. Racism and anti-blackness walk hand in hand and they could be uncomfortable conversations to have with your family partly because it’s so normalized and some of the people in the Latinx community don’t see it as a real issue. But in fact it is and these are the type of conversations we need to be having in order to get rid of it.
How do you reclaim your blackness and stand proudly in your skin?
By reclaiming black joy, doing things that make me happy and having a strong support system around me. A community of people who I can fully trust and be myself around them. Being unapologetically me without ever having to dim my light or make myself smaller for anybody else’s comfort.
How do conquer racism that exists in Finland against the Black community?
One of the things we want to focus on in GHD is by creating safer spaces for the AfroFinnish community in this country where we can be together, talk and share knowledge and support each other. A place for healing and self- love. We also aim to take up space through narrating our stories via words, pictures and documenting different stories.
Talk to me about Good Hair Day and the importance of embracing self love & natural hair in the Afro-Finnish community?
GHD is an anti-racist collective working towards the wellbeing of the AfroFinnish community. Although our early event focuses on hair, it is more of an entry point for dialogue within the AfroFinnish community. We want to encourage each other to speak with our own voices and produce better terminology for the Finnish language to describe Afro hair and hair care.
We commit our work to the principles of the For Us, By Us – philosophy where minorities, in this case AfroFinns themselves, define the means and tools of their representation and empowerment.
With our three pillars being positive representation, empowerment and community – that’s what we always keep in mind while doing our work at GHD. We wanted to create a safer space for AfroFinns that allow discussions that center us. Focusing on the positive tools of representation in order to ensure wellbeing in our community.A place where we can fully be ourselves, embrace our roots and be surrounded by our community. Even if it’s just for one day. So celebrating AfroFinnishness and working through JOY.
What have you learned most about yourself through this movement?
I’ve learned a lot about my own identity and that I am truly not alone with these experiences. For a long time as a AfroFinn with a dual-heritage I really thought I was but that changed especially when I found GHD. There has always been and still is a community of AfroFinns here in Finland that just want to exist as they are. That the only one who can define my identity is me.
Keep Up With Paloma on Instagram: @Mspalomitaa