I never thought of myself as being of African descent because my family never spoke about it when I was growing up. We were Dominicans from the Dominican Republic – a country that was diverse in skin tone and united in bachata, baseball, and locrios, among many other things. I didn’t consider myself anything but Dominican too until my sophomore year of high school when a girl said my curly hair made me Hispanic. Something about the comment offended me, but I couldn’t verbalize or understand what had made me uncomfortable.
I tried to explain that my dad was dark-skinned with jerry curls, and even though I wasn’t as dark, my family had some African ancestry. The whole island did. But I just got laughed at and decided to be quiet because the person telling me I wasn’t Black or mixed in the race was Black. I didn’t touch the subject again until my junior year of college when Junot Diaz gave a lecture at my school. He was hyping us up, asking where the Dominicans were, and we made noise. Then he asked, “
Where are my Afro-Latinos at?” And I was among the people who stayed silent. Finally, with a look of a disappointed mother looking at her gringo son unable to peel a platano, he said, “I’m looking straight at you,” and I was uneasy because I never fully understood how I was supposed to identify.
On official documents, I know my place. Well, the powers-that-be put me in my place anyways. My ethnicity is Hispanic (Latinx if the institution is with the times), but my race is either Black, African-American, or White on the small list. Even though my grandmother was a Candelario with light green eyes, I always put Black. My ancestors from her side had arrived from Spain on the coast of Miches, a small town in El Seibo province of the Dominican Republic. I could look up why; they are probably in the history books, but I never made an effort. I just figured they were part of all the other colonists looking to reap the benefits of the island without any regard for the inhabiting peoples. My older sister said they were illiterate runaways; either way, they were well-off because how else could they afford the trip?
The only reason I knew about the Spain lineage was that those people passed down part of the land by the beach and mountains, and Dominicans do not play when it comes to inheritance. My half-brother, for example, cried his eyes out at the funeral home, and people had to pull him off my dad’s body even though my father hated him. Minutes after they sent the body out for cremation, he drove straight to my dad’s house with a camera out telling my stepmother through a Whatsapp audio note, “Eh, Minerva no vayan a tomar nada hasta que vengan mis hermanos. ¿Y tu anda en la jeepeta de mi papá que no la veo aquí?”
Basically, he filmed the house and asked about my dad’s jeep because that would all go down in the inheritance. It’s shameful but standard practice. I’ve heard everything from planned murders to family feuds and blackmail. I know to put Black because my mother told me that her great-grandmother married a mixed, dark-skinned Dominican, and my father told me his family was composed of mainly mixed dark-skinned Dominicans too. I knew they meant Afro-Dominicans because I had researched the
Dominican Republic’s racial makeup. However, I didn’t know about the indigenous Taino people of the island who were killed by foreign diseases and enslavement by Europeans who arrived for “exploration” on the island until I was in my early twenties. Today, I have learned to embrace my Afro-Latinidad, no matter what others think. I continue to look into history because it took me a long time to tune into the world around me regarding race and ethnicity. I was timid, I didn’t have a strong voice and I didn’t understand where to
When I was younger many people would prefer to isolate you for your features instead of considering how colonization and slavery contributed to your ethnic and racial background. The good thing is I know I’ll be breaking the cycle with my children and nieces and nephews when they ask why so and so looks more Black or White than Dominican in our family. I didn’t
have anyone walk me through history, and I had to research many things after attending college and seeing the debates on social media. I hope you will do your digging, no matter what you look like or what people assume about you. Know where you are from and the rich history that is there with it that makes you and your family unique.