But …I don’t get it, Rukia how can you be Latina, when you’re black!?” I have heard variations of this question countless times throughout my adolescent years. Questions like this have led me to feel that my Latino Identity was something I always had to prove and/or defend. At that time, I didn’t know how to explain or embrace my Afro-Latino heritage.
All I knew was that my family spoke Spanish and that we are Black. Culturally, I knew that I shared many similarities with other Latina’s. I also knew that I did not possess as many of the physical features that society depicts as Latina. I don’t have silky textured hair or fair light skin with a narrow nose. I know that I don’t resemble Jennifer Lopez or Adrienne Bailon however to our heritage is what makes us more alike than meets the eye to me.
It’s hard being a child knowing that you are different. In my experience, identifying as an Afro-Latina has been complex. It is apparent that I am of African descent. However, my Latina heritage is less obvious and continues to be questioned.
For me, it was just easier to say that I’m Black. I’m still learning how to navigate the trichotomy of my multicultural upbringing. You see, I am a second-generation immigrant, my mother is from Panama and my father is from Tanzania. With two vastly different cultures being displayed at home. I had a difficult time navigating the complexities of these cultures. For instance, I remember being asked. ” Black girls have quinceaneras too? I thought that was for Mexicans!” Sentiments such as these have caused me to feel misplaced. Growing up, I wish I had someone who looked like me to affirm my identity.
I have learned that this form of ignorance is perpetuated due to the lack of representation within the Latino community. For example, I can’t tell you how many novelas I’ve watched without seeing a single Afro-Latina. Metaphorically speaking this is equivalent to showing a rainbow with only the color red or purple when in reality we know that there is a myriad of colors. Research has proven that Afro-Latino’s account for a quarter of the population in Latin America. Brazil alone has the second largest population of Afro-descendants outside of Nigeria. Why isn’t this representation reflected in mass media?
My life’s mission is to help change this narrative. The most effective way to facilitate renewed mindsets is to teach our youth how to do so. Similar to how basic arithmetic and grammar are foundational to our society, inclusivity and cultural diversity should also be considered as foundational. Children should be taught how to celebrate their differences throughout their formative years.
My children’s book Latina Looks Like Me was created to exemplify the richness and beauty within our microcultures. I believe that regardless of hair texture, skin tone, country of origin, or Spanish dialect, being Hispanic/ Latino is what connects us. Instead of highlighting only select features, we are stronger when we celebrate and embrace our differences.