My name is Natalie. I am a 26-year-old Afro – Latina and Afro-American woman. My mother’s side comes from the Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico. My father’s side is African American, originally from the south. I grew up in the south with my mother where there were not too many Afro Latinos. I grew up around many non-black Central Americans, non-black Mexicans, and African Americans. From school to the grocery store, to the park, no one saw me or my family as Latinos.
If my mother spoke Spanish to them we were given weird looks or worse they would speak back to her in English. At school, everyone saw me as only an African American, while this was partly true they always seemed to disregard my other ethnicities. I remember asking my mom when I was a little girl “Do I look Hispanic enough?” She always assured me that I looked perfect the way I am.
Though I had a Dominican grandmother who looked exactly like me (dark brown skin, Afro-textured hair) and other family members on my Latin side who were also Afro Latino like me, this still didn’t change the fact that everyone in my daily life would not accept me as a Latina.
I remember distinctly in high school not being able to fit in with the other Latinos because I didn’t speak fluent Spanish and because let’s be real-I am black. Any time I would tell someone I was Dominican and Puerto Rican they would act shocked and surprised. Sometimes they even seemed to quiz me on my culture-as if I was lying about my ethnicity.
One girl in my senior year of high school, upon finding out that I am Latina and African American said “Well it makes sense that you are African American as well because you’re too dark to just be Hispanic.” At the time I didn’t have the language nor the courage to really educate her.
Years of not seeing any Afro Latinos on tv. Years of not being able to accurately choose my ethnicity and race on forms. Years of constantly having to tell people that there are indeed black Latinos. Years of questioning why I didn’t have the “mixed girl hair” if I was truly a Latina.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I actually was able to take a class about Afro Latinos called “Afro Latin History” There I learned just how much the Black people in our countries suffered but I also learned how much we really contributed to our Latin countries’ history. Although, some may continue to try and erase Afro Latinos out of history, know that they will never succeed because we cannot be erased out of history and culture that we helped create and continue to help create!
As I have grown into an adult, learned about myself and my people, traveled to my family’s home countries, and have come into who I really am I know now that I don’t need to prove who I am. I am a proud Afro Latina through and through!
My Latinidad? – Natalie Warren
My relationship with my Latinidad is complex.
To some it was the thing that made me interesting and “other”
I could see their eyes glow and their teeth sharpen as I explained the multiple ethnicities I come from.
For someone who felt unseen, I found myself
I would try to bend myself in ways that would make me fit perfectly into their world.
Simultaneously, my Latinidad felt like a club I could never join, a family I could never be a part of, a job I could never be hired for
despite having all of the qualifications.
How is it that you feel yourself in the music of the culture?
See yourself in the food of the culture?
Hear yourself in the language of the culture?
day by day
they say “No. Not you.”
Natalie Warren (Natalie IsaBel) is a 26-year-old writer and aspiring author from North Carolina. Her poems and other writings are heavily influenced by her Afro Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Afro-American roots. She goes by Natalie IsaBel because she intends to be just that-a bell so that her words may ring for others to hear.