PROJECT: TO BE BLACK AND FROM DOMINICAN REPUBLIC will focus on raising awareness about black women that hails from the Dominican Republic created by Content Creator of #IAMENOUGH Jenay Wright.
Here are the individual stories of some out of many Afro-Dominican women and ther experience on EMBRACING WHILE RECLAIMING their BLACKNESS.
WE WILL SHED LIGHT UPON THIS COMMUNITY OF WOMEN AND ONLY HOPE TO EMPOWER OTHER WOMEN TO USE THEIR VOICES.
IG: @ Le_Frosie
Bilingual Hair & Beauty Vlogger
Santo Domingo / Villa Juana
Being Afro-Latina in the Dominican Republic means being full of African Ancestry. I pay homage to African ancestry for my deeply melanated skin and the curl pattern on my head. I am a melting pot possessing blood derived from Españoles, Taínos, and Africans.
In the Dominican Republic, it is often normal to see people of melanin skin speaking Spanish and involved into their Dominican culture. No one assumes I don’t belong to the culture, nor do they treat me any different than the fair skinned person with the light eyes and blonde hair.
But growing up in New York, it’s kind of confusing for people to understand my identity. For example, I was once on twitter and posted a photo of me in my country. A random guy commented my photo saying ” You are not Dominican. You’re too dark” – as if he knew me. At this point & ignorance, I didn’t think he deserved a reply from me. Everywhere I go, once I start speaking Spanish I get astonished faces staring at me. Usually followed by “I didn’t know you spoke Spanish!! I thought you were just African -American”. When I ask them “what made you assume that?”, they never have anything to say – because they don’t want to sound ignorant by saying that they assumed I was African American because of my skin color.
Some Americans automatically assume that you are just African-American once you’re dark skinned and I feel like it’s an ignorant assumption. I’ve seen fair skinned African- Americans and not once did I assume they were Caucasian. Although I grew up in New York, I didn’t learn how to speak English till I was in the 4th grade – and boy my accent was thicker than a snicker to the point where my classmates teased me for it. My family only spoke Spanish as they were the first generation of my family who made it to the Americas. I grew up eating tres golpes, arroz con habichuelas, pernil etc. Also grew up watching nothing but novelas and inherited the Dominican culture of dancing merengue, bachata and salsa. So when people assume I am African American, I cannot really agree.
One time, I was in a Dominican hair salon and asked for an asymmetrical haircut. The hairdresser who apparently assumed I didn’t understand Spanish began to speak about my hair to her co worker. She said “her hair is too coarse to do that cut. I can’t do it without giving her a perm”- in Spanish. I felt offended 1) because she assumed I didn’t understand and2) because she underestimated my hair’s ability to get straightened properly without a perm. When I interrupted them and told them in Spanish “my hair is actually very fine when straightened. I don’t need a perm. If you don’t wanna do my hair, let me know”, they were both astonished.
She then agreed to do my hair and it came out just as I wanted it to look WITHOUT a perm. It was just funny to me how the girls in the salon began to be very friendly to me once they realized I was Dominican just like them. They asked me questions about my education, family, & love life. All of the previous times I’ve been in the salon, they never bothered to hold a conversation with me. I never went back to the salon again….
I feel like Hispanics in America treat you differently when they assume you’re not Hispanic because of your skin color. In many occasions I’ve been able to get discounts for speaking Spanish. I wish it wasn’t like this but that’s the world we live in. People need to understand and be aware of the fact that a specific culture can belong to any race. This should be taught since elementary school.
Being Afro-Latina is such a pleasure because I have two worlds. My experience being Dominican is great because we have one of the best cultures in the world. The food, the clothing, the dancing, our religious views and family traditions make us stand out so much in the world.
I don’t look at myself as a “typical” Dominican woman because I have short hair and tattoos but that doesn’t take away the fact that I love my nationality. When I first cut my hair and then went to Dominican Republic, my family is from Herrera, they looked at me like I was crazy as hell. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t believe that I had short hair but it was cool to show people that it’s okay to be different.
Now when I go back it’s all good because so much has evolved that I don’t get looked at weird but now that I’m covered in tattoos that’s another story. I’m thankful for my father because he taught me at an early age where Dominicans come from and never forget my African descent.
I always try to teach the ignorant people that don’t want to learn their roots but I’m so happy that I know myself and my roots to the core. That’s why being Afro-Latina is so great because we have the best of both worlds.
Take advantage of that. Just because I speak, write and read in Spanish fluently doesn’t make my skin color change. I’m a black woman and I’m so proud of that but don’t take my culture away from me.
Being an exotic rose is a delicious pleasure and I’m so proud to be Dominican.
We the fucking best!
To Be Dominican
To be Dominican is to be every woman.
I come from plantains, rice and oxtails
and yucca and corn and
even though I don’t want to,
I also come from fincas and a white slave owner
whose last name was Ramirez.
What a beautiful disaster created in the name of
money and lust
by a man whose last name was Columbus.
Entitled white men doing what they do best,
placing ownership on lands,
black and indigenous bodies on display,
open to anyone with desire and amusement,
like toys on clearance,
like animals at a zoo.
That might have been the first time we were taught
do not belong to us
and the only time our bodies mean something
is when they’re being exploited and abused.
I can almost feel the black and blues
on my ancestors’ bodies,
hear the cries and desperate prayers,
the tears swell up in my throat
as they live and fight through me.
I like to think that maybe love existed too.
To be Dominican is to be every woman.
I have traveled across lands, oceans, and borders;
holding on to the little I get to keep,
like the way my ancestors taught me how to dance
and how to speak,
the broken Spanish mixed with Indigenous and African words
rolling off my tongue with ease and pride.
I have stories written in the palms of my hands;
like when I helped my grandma hand wash our clothes,
when I picked my first coconut from the tree,
the fresh sweetness giving me a break from the sun.
I remember the electricity being cut off and
running outside with candles in my hand
to hear the elders, tell their stories.
The oceans breeze running thorough my hair
as I sink my feet
into the sand that has over 500 years of history
printed on them.
The clear blue sky looking at me
as the wind whispers
the secrets Columbus and his men wanted it to keep.
That’s why my voice is soft and I move my hands a lot when I talk,
I want you to hear them like I did.
I know I may look or act a certain way to you
but I am not a one dimensional being for
I am a woman of many journeys and sights.
Black, native, white; I’m a walking paradox,
a living contradiction, hard to grasp but easy to admire.
My mere existence being the only thing that could have
prevented me from existing in the first place.
The side that I show you is not the only side that I have
As I’m a mixture of rolled R’s, dulce de leche,
feisty mouths, guitars strumming, fancy dresses,
hips swaying, and drums playing…
because to be Dominican
is to be every woman.
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Boca Chica / Barahona
How are you treated as a black Dominican in the states versus when you visit Dominican Republic?
In the United States, Im not “Dominican”. I don’t “look” Dominican. I’m black, punto y final. When I visit the Dominican Republic I’m affectionately called Negra/Morena. Im embraced. For me, I was never Spanish enough to be Dominican (especially as a kid who grew up with mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids) but not Black enough to just be Black. There has always been this sense of limbo and identity.
Why do you think some Dominicans often deny their blackness?
I think we as Dominicans, since the era of Trujillo, has been a huge part of the denial of our Blackness. An additional layer is the fear and perhaps survival mechanism when coming to the states. Fearing English speaking Black people and faced with racism at times (from both ends). The idea that you can “better the race” by not dating darker skinned Dominicans. Also, let’s not forget the intense tension that exists between Haiti and the Dominican Republic as well.
What makes you a proud Afro-Dominicana?
I’ve always said I’m Dominican and to me that automatically includes being Black. Looking at our ancestral make up there’s no denying Dominican culture is mixed and infused with different influences. While I don’t use the term “Afro-Latina” or “Afro-Dominicana” to self identify, I am proud to be Black AND Dominican because it’s beautiful. From my skin to my swag, I have such an appreciation for my culture and the way I look because it tells the stories of a people I am proud to be apart of.
IG : @celihangout
Peces Con Mar
Ville De Altagargia / San Francisco de Macoris / Santo Domingo
Growing up Dominican was a struggle. I don’t regret anything about it though because it’s a part of my journey to accepting my true self. Before I go into my story, I’d like to briefly share my family history of what I know so far.
First and foremost, I am Vanity Duran. The last name Duran comes from my great-grandfather who originally came from France before making his way to Spain and then settling in the Dominican Republic. He got married, had a family, and distributed his land among his children. Although my grandfather had his piece of his father’s land, it still wasn’t enough space for his large family and each child had to work. They usually worked for other families and sometimes lived with them. My godmother, who is one of the eldest, worked for a family that was getting ready to move to New Jersey. They offered her to come as well in which she accepted. One-by-one, she then sent for her siblings to start a life in the states as well.
By the time I was born in 1992, my family was well and settled in Passaic, NJ. Everyone in my family spoke predominantly Spanish, so without a doubt, Spanish was my first language. However, once I started school and learned English, I started to speak more and more English. My parents didn’t discipline me to speak Spanish, although I sometimes wish they did. The truth is, the more I spoke English, the less I remembered Spanish which made me uncomfortable to speak my native language. I used to get bullied a lot and if I could help it, I definitely didn’t want to get made fun of anymore and not speaking Spanish was the sacrifice I made for it.
By the time I turned 9, my immediate family moved to Tampa, FL, away from all of my family. It was tragic! I was super lonely and sad for a long time which didn’t motivate me to speak Spanish at all. I’d spend a lot of time in my room listening to music, watching tv, and playing games by myself. My favorite thing to do was dance in my room like nobody was watching. This was around 2003-2006 when reggaeton (in my opinion) was at its prime.
There was this TV network called Mun2, sort of like an MTV for young Latinos, that I’d watch faithfully every day. I’d always be sure to tune to “The Roof”, a TV show that had a music video countdown, dancers, a DJ, entertainment guests, etc. all spoken in Spanglish. Seriously, how cool does that sound!? I used to pretend I was one of “The Roof” dancers and would GET DOWN!!! Listening to reggaeton definitely helped my Spanish, and although it made me proud to be Dominican, there still was something not right within. If anything, I felt worse. Like, here is this ‘gringa’ jamming out to Latino music but can barely converse in Spanish with her mother.
In grade school, I was always pretty odd. I didn’t fit in with the “chicas” and I didn’t automatically become part of the Dominican crew. I did, however, gravitate with the black students in class, but I noticed a lot of cultural differences that didn’t help us connect.Years of confusion went by and I went off to college. Not just any college, though–I went to a historically black college/ university (HBCU), Florida A&M University (FAMU) at that. I didn’t know FAMU was an HBCU. I literally thought it was a coincidence that a lot of black and African-American students attended the institution. I also thought that because I’m Dominican, I’d fit right in.
Annual FAMU Hispanic Heritage Month Photo
I was wrong. It was a major culture shock. After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to transfer to a different university for more diversity. While waiting for my acceptance letter, I realized that running away from Tallahassee wouldn’t solve any of my problems. I also realized that if I don’t make use of the Spanish language, I’ll lose it. Ironically, in 2013, I started my school’s first Hispanic/ Latino organization of its kind called UNIDOS. Through UNIDOS, I’m sort of almost FAMU’s spokesperson for Latinos on the campus. UNIDOS hosts culturally base discussions and events. Every year for Hispanic Heritage Month, the organization takes a picture featuring all the Latinos/ Hispanics on campus. I’m pretty sure with the organization’s success, people would never think that it’s founder had a struggle with her cultural identity.
I embrace my blackness while preserving my Dominican culture by simply striving to be myself. Throughout this article, I focused mainly on speaking Spanish–but speaking Spanish or not, doesn’t mean your Latina and it shouldn’t mean that you’re not Latina because you don’t speak it fluently. Despite my shyness to speak Spanish, I broke the fear and just started to do it. I still mess up here and there but I make sure to take advantage of it.
It wasn’t until last year that I heard of the term Afro-Latina. I thought the word ‘love’ was a comforting word until I heard of ‘Afro-Latina’. It all makes total sense to me that I am pure Afro-Latina. I’m still putting my history pieces together, but being able to connect with other Afro-Latinas, particularly Afro-Dominicans, makes me feel better about my cultural experiences and background. I have so much to learn but that I know that I’m not alone with my struggle in Spanish, finding true admiration for my hair, and my body shape makes me a proud Afro-Latina and I can never deny that.
I did not know I was black! I somehow found out and started loving myself in a whole different way. I am Dominican, I am Black, I am Latina.
Here’s my story. I started my natural hair journey 3 years ago on a Saturday. I was inspired by my cousins who went natural after college. I was scared because a lot of my family members would tell them to tame the “pajon.” But on that Saturday, I cut most of my hair off, I felt powerful but then I felt powerless. What was I doing? I told my mom and she said to do what I wanted because it was my hair. That wasn’t a YAY but it wasn’t a no, so I continued my journey. Throughout the journey, I started feeling comfortable. I remember feeling very uncomfortable with my own hair when it was straightened. It was a very weird feeling that I did not feel with my curly hair. I was finally happy with myself. Throughout the journey I also realized that I was black. It was a crazy moment. I remember having arguments with my friends because they didn’t believe I was black.
They asked “how are you black?” and all I could say was look at me. I remember once I got so frustrated that I sent them this: (I embrace my African roots and that makes me uneducated. I am black and I am Dominican. The Dominican Republic along with the other countries in the Caribbean are part of the African Diaspora. There are many communities in the DR of descendants of Yoruba and Mandingo people. My ancestors are black; my great grandfather is from Spain. I don’t identify with my Spanish ancestors because of their history with my country. I identify with my African ancestors. My question was, how am I not black? You gave me your answer which was “your parents are not directly from Africa; therefore, you are not black.” I don’t care about what percentage of me comes from Africa, that does not make me less African.
It’s in my blood, it may be less than 50% or even 5% but I do not care. I identify as Black, Dominican, Afro Caribbean, Afro Dominican. I am whatever I say I am. If I say I’m purple, that is how I identify; you have no reason to question me. When I see myself or when I look at my grandfather I see Africa and I am proud to see Africa. Don’t call me uneducated or question my identity because you don’t identify the same way) The Dominican Republic is part of the African Diaspora but that part of our history is never mentioned.
WE hate ourselves because we are dark. We are beautiful! We have a wonderful culture that should not be erased or forgotten because it makes us who we are! Realizing you are black is a journey. It’s learning to accept your culture in a whole different way. It’s realizing that who you think you are is bigger than what you think it is; there is so much to learn about yourself through your written and erased history. It’s realizing that you do not need to separate or identify with only your European Roots or your African Roots because you are both.
Our history will not be erased because we are finally strong enough to accept and fight for it.
We are complex and beautiful.
Moca, Provincia Espailat
There is constant battle between history and evidence, black and white, owning our ethnicity and self hate. We dominicans reap a lot of benefits from our african heritage, from the food to music. The things that makes us the most proud are the things that come from Africa, so why the disconnect?
The hatred for blackness has been passed down for many generations and is deeply rooted into our lives. We don’t even noticed when we are putting our blackness down. We say things like, “don’t date that person, you must cleanse the race”, “fix your hair” and “don’t catch too much sun”. We try everything to not be black, we are constantly trying to make our hair “better”, our skin not too dark and to look more european.
For many years, I thought my family was very progressive. We had every color under the sun, and blackness was not really spoken about. It was much during my teen years when it was evident that discrimination towards black was a factor. My great-grandmother, the matriarch of the family was the darker shade in the house. She was loving, prayerful, compassionate and a helper by birth. She taught us to love our color, embrace our history and move forward. When my cousins will say that I was the pretties because my hair only needed a blow dryer to be straight, my great-grandma would say that beauty is on the inside. She was that safe voice that helped us love ourselves.
Spending time with my great-grandma was my favorite, because she would tell me about a time in our history when open hate for blacks was encouraged and celebrated. The Parsley Massacre was the most recent black xenophobia in our dominican history. It was a time when you needed to hide your black features. The president at the time, Rafael Trujillo wanted to cleanse the country of blackness so much, he invited “white” refugees in hope that they would mate and lighten the black out of us. Bleaching is consider a novel thing to do, the end goal should always be to be white, or as white as possible.
One of the worse things I had witnessed is how a black girl would be the sexualize, but not in a respectful way, if there is even a good way to sexualize, but she would be and object. She would be the punching bag both physically and emotionally. I found her crying once, when I asked her why she was crying she said because she is tired of being the black girl that men grab her behind but never fed her. Just as fast as she said that she got up and left, and I never saw her cry again. She later killed herself. I think about her, and how her life would had been different if she had a great-grandma like mine, she would had been loved!
That is what it feels to be black dominican, used for flavor but never appreciated. Unloved and mistreated. Compare to any animal that is deem ugly. Hated when somebody brings you over to meet the family. Being told that you need to fix your skin and hair to be accepted. That is what history has made dominicans be, a self loathing human being who doesn’t even noticed when you are saying racist things.
When you encounter a dominican who is still unaware of the hate, don’t argue, LOVE. That is the one thing nobody has taught Dominicans. Love your hair, love your color, love your heritage. Embrace the beautiful color our ancestors have fought hard to exist. Look in the mirror and love every inch of your beautiful self. That is how we help our brothers and sisters, with LOVE.
Love for my mother made me search for the truth that textbooks were not telling me. Love for my great-grandma was the push I needed to stand up to the “family” that called a boyfriend monkey. It was the love for my curls that helped me to care for every single curl and its character. Love allow me to embrace not just my african heritage, but everything that makes me uniquely me. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, the proof that our ancestors are survivors, the evidence that LOVE is more than a feeling but LOVE is the force, powerful to change even the most hateful heart.
Santo Domingo / Carl Roy
” I’m proud to be an Afro Dominican because it’s such a rich culture. Dominicans are some of the most beautiful people in the world, we make some of the best food, and not to mention we have a beautiful land. I don’t think there’s a Dominican alive that isn’t proud to be Dominican.”
IG : @channiemaria
The first thing I always have to mention surrounding my Afro Latino roots is my last name. My last name is Samboy, the easiest last name to spell but probably the most complex last name to those who hear it for the first time. According to my late father, our last name derived from French African roots meaning “Slave”. He had told me and my siblings that the spelling of our last name had changed over time from Sambo to Samboi to finally Samboy. I had constructed my own research just to prove his theory true. Where did my last name come from or actually derive from.
Now, I went the basic route to try and see if in fact this was actually a French derived word. The word slave translated from English to Spanish is esclavo, in French it is esclave. The French and Spanish language both share some similarities which means I was not surprised that they were both spelled the same and almost sounded the same. This little discovery now left me back at square one and asking myself, “How does Samboy mean slave and in what particular language?”
My google search consisted of typing in “Samboy meaning slave,” just to see what exactly would pop up as results. The first result lead me to a Wiki page entitled, “Sambo (Racial Term). As I began to read what Sambo meant, “Sambo is a term for a person with African heritage and in some countries, also mixed with Native American heritage. Formerly, it had the technical meaning of a person having a mixture of black and white ancestry, more black than white—contrast with mulatto, quadroon, octoroon etc.”
I was a little shocked to actually read what the actual origin was from, it is a combination of African (which I knew) and Native American. Now, I tried to read up on more online articles to see if the Native American part was true to each source. I was rerouted to another alternative spelling of Sambo, Zambo. Zambo, “are racial terms used in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires and occasionally today to identify individuals in the Americas who are of mixed African and Amerindian ancestry. Historically, the racial cross between African slaves and Amerindians was referred to as a ‘zambaggoa’, then ‘zambo”’, then ‘sambo’”. This all led my research to one common discovery, African and Native American basis.
I’m really not sure how close in coincidence my last name and my discovery hold together but based off the stories I’ve been told I cannot simply erase what I just learned.I started with my last name because I knew it held the most significance in my Afro Latino roots. As a first generation Dominican – American, I would say my Afro-ness is a little bit different from a native born and raised Dominican. I am the youngest of 7 children and each and every one of my siblings are all different shades of brown. From caramel, mocha, vanilla and butterscotch, neither one of us tans the same or have the same under tones. My parents are a dark brown man and a vanilla woman.
Being black Dominican was never nothing new to me. I did not discover it in my hair journey while I was going natural. I did not have someone read me my Afro Latino rights one day and have an epiphany. I was telling folks for years that I was Black Dominican and White Dominican. By referring to myself as Black and White Dominican I was trying to say that I am mulatto. I am a combination of lighter and darker skin with African roots.
My mother being “white” Dominican, she did not fit the mold of a “typical” Dominican body/ woman. She was not curvy, her hair was wavy and based off her own genealogy she was probably more mixed than my father. But that does not mean my mother does not have her own linkage to being Afro Dominican.
My perception of being Afro Latino goes beyond the shade and color of my complexion. It had more to do with my features, which were all inherited from my father side of the family. I owe my wide hips, voluptuous bottom, thighs and very ample chest all to my father’s genetics. Not to mention my tightly coiled curly hair that at one point in life was relaxed, so that I could have straight hair. Growing up I noticed that mostly other Dominicans or Caribbean Latinos could tell I was Dominican, based off of my looks and my Spanish. In school, because of my last name most teachers or students couldn’t tell what I was until I mentioned it. I had often gotten mistaken for two things, being black and white or Puerto Rican and black. As always, one response was always the same: being black and mixed with something else.
I never got offended being mistaken for black, as some Dominicans would. I knew down the line somewhere I really was. I never believed that I was Taíno mixed with Spaniard and African. I actually believe that Taíno died out early on for that to be even possible in my lineage. But that is just something I believe and I’m not entirely too sure about. I believe I’m a Mulatto, Spaniard and African mixture, with a little more Africa in me than anything else.
As a teenager, I realize I was not like other Dominican peers I had. I was “woke” before my time; I always spoke about my blackness proudly. My father was often mistaken for a black man his entire life living in the States. He sported an afro hair do for the majority of the 70s and 80s. In all fairness I don’t think my father really considered himself black. But he was a proud Dominican man and he was well educated enough to know that he was in fact Afro-Latino.
I try to keep my circle of friends very diverse so I will never have to encounter ignorant comments and opinions that may try to be little my ethnicity. I could remember having plenty of conversations with other Dominicans that would straight up deny their African roots. Not willing to accept the fact that they are indeed a mixture of African and Spaniard, but accept that they are of European decent. As if they were miraculously caramel and canela complexion came out of nowhere. Conversations that went like that bothered me the most, like how could you be that dense to not think that somewhere in your family history there is a long line of African Dominican slaves. The Dominican Republic is a country that at one point was ruled by Haiti, which also has a large black population. Therefore, you mean to tell me some of us believe there was no intermingling.
I have never been to the Dominican Republic so I have no personal experience as to what they may possibly think about Black Dominicans. I am sure I can infer with the type of conversations I have over heard from the older Dominican population here in New York City. They probably would not consider me to be Black Dominican until they hear my views on how I identify myself.I have always felt like an outcast Dominican. Growing up in New York City I was exposed to all different types of things, from music to culture nothing is the same. I love my culture, the music it has created, the food (especially the food!) and the art. My favorite things about Dominican art are the blank faces, Muñecas Limé. This is a traditional style of Dominican art; they create these dolls and painting typically of women with blank faces. Dominicans believe that no two women (or people for that matter) are like.
What amazes me with this art form depicts tend to be of darker skin women, more Afro Latino if you will. I love how they are made to be curvy, slim, tall, and short sometimes with long hair or no hair. I think what they really mean is that we could all be Dominican women but not look the same or sound the same. Our faces are what make us unique and different but we still share the same culture.
I could never understand the Dominicans that out right deny their blackness. However, these are some of the same people who believe in things like Santeria, which derived from the African slaves brought to Hispaniola. Many of the reasons behind Dominicans denying their blackness come from our history. The fact that all the colonies believed Europeans were the superior race was a brainwashed concept. Who wouldn’t want to be like their superiors? Men like Rafael Trujillo, led his Dominican people to this concept. He was the mastermind to a Haitian genocide in the 1930’s. Trujillo feared the “darkening” of Dominican people and publicly promoted anti-Haitian sentiments. Dominican Republic publicly had a leader creating propaganda and spreading hate all based on skin color and ethnicity.
Dominicans denying their blackness is a lot more deep rooted than we may think. I remember my mother speaking on my father, how he once made an observation about my sisters dating black men. To which my mother simply replied, look who their rather is.
I always joke around saying the first man I loved was a black man and that is very true, my father was a Black Dominican man. I cannot deny his blackness even if he just believed he was plain ole Dominican. My love for my culture cannot allow me to just see it one way and view myself in one as well. I love everything about my Dominican blackness, from my last name, to my hair, to the music and traditions we hold and still practice today.
San Francisco de Macorís
My name is Marianny and I am 37 years old. My parents came from the Dominican Republic to New York in 1978. The first time I became aware of my blackness was back when I was 4 years old. My little sister had just been born and my parents brought her home from the hospital. She was very fair skinned and had pretty blonde curls. I am darker and have dark kinky hair. There were a lot of family and friends there to welcome my new sister and one of my fathers friends comes over to me and says “you know, your parents are going to love your sister more because she’s blonde and beautiful and you’re black.”
From that moment on I’ve never felt beautiful or good enough. I received my first hair relaxer a year later at the age of 5 and the response from people was something I hadn’t experienced before, not that I can remember anyway. Family members telling me how pretty I looked with my hair straight. Well let’s just say from that point on I was hooked. From the age of 5 until 33 I would go to the salons every week to get my blowouts and every 3 months for my “creamy crack”. Everything changed for me when I had my beautiful curly haired star of a daughter. My little girl begged me at 3 years old “please mommy, I want long hair like you!” I said to her “Presley, you have such beautiful hair. Why do you want to change it?””Mommy, I want to look like you.”
My heart sank. What example was I setting? Why was I continuing the same European standard of beauty that has plagued my people since colonial times? So, I asked my mother if her friend could do my hair. When I get there I tell her to just chop of all my hair. Naturally she tried to change my mind but I was sure of my decision. When she was done I had a tiny little Afro and I started bawling. I couldn’t believe what I had just done, but then I remembered why I was doing this. For my star.
I have learned so much during my natural hair journey. One of the most important being accepting my blackness. Loving my blackness. Teaching my daughter to love it as well. My family still hates when I say that we’re black. All I hear is “yo no soy ningún negro!” I don’t blame anyone for my having grown up with such low self esteem because the self hatred runs so deep in Dominican culture. My goal now is to educate as many people as I can. I want for all my people to look at themselves and love themselves. Especially little girls who should know how beautiful they are just as they are. They should all know that they are enough.
“Bella Vista” Santo Domingo
“I AM ENOUGH”
Yo soy una mujer.
Yo soy Multi-Racial.
Yo soy Afro-Latina.
Yo soy Dominicana.
Yo soy humana.
The difficulty of a baby being born in a world that suppresses who you are with classifications and labels before you are able to speak or understand.
Do you remember who you were before the world told you who to be?
We believe in rainbows and yet we only chose to see in Black or White.
Throughout my life, people have asked me and I have asked myself , ” Are you hispánic enough to be Hispanic?” Are you Black enough to be Black? Are you Dominican enough to be Dominican?”
People have tested me. Seeing if and how well I speak Spanish. Seeing if I know this telenovela or this show. Seeing if I fall into the stereotype or not. Seeing the texture and length of my hair.
I will be honest, I used to hide the fact that I was Dominican for a couple of years. I got tired of the tests to prove I am what I am. I got tired of the judged eyes, the questions about my family history and grew to dislike the word “exotic”.
Exotic to me means seeing something or someone far from you that is foreign and new. I’m never far from them, I stand right in front of them. They can see me. I am real. I exist. I exist in this world.
The moment I realized that I was tired of trying to fit in; into their perceptions of me or their expectations of me; is the time I finally became free. I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. I don’t need to answer your questions. I no longer need to hide the fact that I speak Spanish or hide my Dominican heritage. I’m so proud to Black. I’m proud of being Dominican. I’m proud to be Multi-Racial.
I am proud because I know I am enough. No. I am more than enough. I am me.
Yo soy una mujer.
Yo soy Multi-Racial.
Yo soy Afro-Latina.
Yo soy Dominicana.
Yo soy humana.
The sanctity of my skin shivers in the wind as I realize I’m woke. Woke in the beauty and acceptance of
being an Afro-Latina.
I want to ascend into the greatest darkness or light. Take me higher. Take me wholly. Take me as I bare my soul to you. As I bare myself to you. As I expose myself in all of my complications, complexities and flaws. Take me higher. Take me wholly. Allow me to display my truth right before your eyes. Allow me to breathe you as the wind feels me. Allow me to see you as the ocean takes me. Allow me to feel you as the quicksand embraces me. Allow me to witness you as the door closes in front of me. Take all I am.
I want you to witness my roots. There is something beyond me. There is something bigger than me;
bigger that I stand for. Bigger than my cultured history, bigger than what I can see in 2017. I have a
bigger purpose. It’s vast and as I stop listening to the stereotypes, insults or the expectations of who I
should be, I hear the universe sing into my soul. With a melody that’s like a chant for me to stop the hindrance of self. She is calling me to show my true self. What is my true self?
She is telling me that it’s okay that I am Multi-racial; it’s okay to embrace also being Afro-Latina. It’s more than okay to embrace being a woman but most importantly it’s okay to not have to pick a side (Black or Latina) because I am both, I can be free to be me. There is a place for my true self to exist. There is a place for me, a home. The home I’ve been searching for was within me this entire time. The place I have dreamed of is real. I feel as though I have forgotten it; it’s beauty, I feel like I am crumbling, wanting to cry but not out of sadness; quite the opposite. I want to cry from the realization that I feel closer to myself than I have ever been. I want my tears to represent happiness from within.
I am letting some of the walls come down. Take them down and watch me be the Khalessi of my own
dreams. The Khalessi I was always meant to be. The Queen of my own story. The Queen of my own
#Iamenough #Iammorethanenough #afrolatina
Viktoria I.V. King
My mother would walk down the streets of Washington Heights with me inside of her belly. The Dominican drug dealers on the block, who were her friends by association with my father, would buy her food all the time. I was fed by a clan of drug dealers who are known to be the dysfunctionalists of our society. I happen to disagree. As I think of these men, I imagine their skin color ranging from light to dark—looking like a brown rainbow. I imagine some of them with kinky hair; the ones who are always made fun of for their “naps”. Then I envision the other brothers with supposedly “good hair” and how the others with “bad hair” envy them. And this makes me laugh because the idea that macho men have self-esteem issues about their hair convey a kind of irony that can only be understood and accepted within communities of color.
About two summers ago, I read Michelle Alexander’s the New Jim Crow: Mass Incarecation in the Age of Color Blindess which opened my mind to the fraudulent structure of the drug war that criminalizes black and brown bodies. This book also taught me that somehow there is an intersection between Blacks and Latinos which guided me to my journey of afrolatinidad and learning about my blackness. I learned about African enslavement in the Caribbean and Latin America, the colonization of our culture which has been defaced and devalued, and the genocide of our indigenous people—Tainos, Mayas, Incas, etc. All of these stories—untold, real and tragic but beautiful stories—were always a part of me and I never knew that. I wandered through life questioning my mere existence; questioning why I speak a language that others make fun of me for knowing; questioning why I have parents from a country who eats so much rice while we ate burgers and fries at school; questioning the reason why I grew up poor in a neighborhood that did not look like the neighborhoods that I saw on television; and questioning why I have tan skin when my mother has light skin. Growing up, these questions always invaded my thoughts and my understanding of the world around me.
And finally, I found a field of information that explained me—my existence. I remember the first time I heard the term “afro-latino”. It was during a lecture at Rutgers University where I met one of the founders of the Afrolatin@ Forum. I quickly adopted the identification, so happy to have found something that described me in one word—or described my journey of reclaiming my blackness. However, the more I read and engaged in dialogue about afrolatinidad, I learned that adaptation of such political term takes a process. It takes experience, soul-searching and confidence. After realizing this, I decided that I am not ready. I am not ready to call myself ‘black’ without thinking about the implications that it might mean to my Black-American friends. I am not ready to claim things that do not reflect the way I was raised. And I hope for those of you who have made it this far to read my essay that you do not feel discouraged or think that I somehow am rejecting my blackness because I am not. Yo soy Dominicana until the death of me; I will continue to eat that sancocho made by the slaves; I will continue to dance to the African rhythms within our music. To be Dominican and Black is to be Dominican at heart—not to be Black like in the eyes of White America. Yo soy Dominicana and I acknowledge and accept the africanness within our culture. I will have a lot of soul-searching and learning to do. I will get there; and I know I will.
Power to the People
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