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The struggle of an afro-latina especially when you don't pass as latina

The life of being an afro latina often feels like an oxymoron because what you know to be true doesn’t align to what you will face in society. It’s the color of your skin and language you speak to define in a moment are you black or are you Hispanic? For me, that was never a simple question to answer and continues to never be. On any application, I always checked off African American while my mother on the other hand would quickly undo my answer and to check off Hispanic instead. The older I became, the better I understood that in America, we fail to realize the difference between a race and ethnicity.

My race is black and my ethnicity is hispanic but those terms have been intermingled. A friend of mine, her race would be white and her ethnicity is hispanic but to avoid any confusion she immediately checks off Hispanic. I’ve seen this concept play out in conversations with hispanics within my school or family. The expression of “I’m not black, I’m Dominican.” hits too close to home as to why many afro-latinos wouldn’t be comfortable expressing both parts of their identity. There is a negative connotation tied to being a black person in a community where lighter skinned and straighter hair is preferred. It’s one thing to be discriminated against by a community prominently full of white people. It’s another thing felt across the border when it’s your own people. You're not half of something, or a quarter of it, it just is you. You are inadvertently told to choose one side of yourself and to deny the other.

` When I was younger, it was a routine for my mother and I to go to the Dominican salon. I would be first in the chair because my hair required a relaxer before washing and blow drying can be done. A relaxer that would burn my scalp and left scabs that can be felt anytime I scratched my head. It was the neglect of hairstylists to leave an eight year old with a chemical substance on their head because the hair that grew out of it was too difficult to comb through. I grew to be used to the smell of a relaxer and burning of hair every time a blow dryer was two inches from the brush the hair laid on. I felt beautiful in the essence to have my hair straightened. I was fed the idea that the more I kept up with such a routine, my hair would get longer. Truth to be told my hair remained at shoulder length and now the new method to help grow my hair was oils. I was tired of seeing this routine work for so many women I knew including my mother but me. It wasn’t until my sister-in-law big chopped her hair in 2017 and to see how much of her own hair had grown the year after that I fell in love with curls and big afros. It sent me on an expedition to find out what my own hair would look like if I had stopped relaxing it. It took my eighth grade year of elementary school to go natural but in making an agreement with my mother that in maintaining my hair I had to continue straightening my hair. It was something I could stay with until I could also experience the freedom of doing a big chop. The expression of wearing my hair the way it grows out of my hair. I would say my natural hair journey made me fall in love with being black and the culture that came with it, however without my relaxed hair there wasn’t much I could do to still be seen as the typical latino girl.

The observations I’ve made with stereotypes and mannerisms associated with being a black woman are that we are strong, independent, and function from a form of masculinity. While being latina means having your expression of anger is seen as a form of “spiciness” or an exotic sass that’s often not quite taken seriously to the male gaze. My personal experience with such stereotypes is that at first glance I’m assumed to be a mean person off of my black phenotype but as soon as I mention that I’m also hispanic I seem to become a rare action-pack figure for people to inspect. It feels like I’m put into my own little box of special treatment. Regardless of who I said I was, I continued to be treated like a black woman and disrespected like one. For instance, being called Aunt Jemima by a fellow classmate or Ms. Rice and Beans by my school’s dean. No matter who I said I was, it was never good enough to stand against the names I got called. If I was seen like a black woman and treated as such I was tired putting up a fight to say I wasn’t or I was also another ethnicity. This moment of self-identification became like a form of rebellion to my family but a form of an acceptance to my friends because it meant that I was fine with being black but not hispanic. That was never the case but with being an afro-latina is your always trying to conform or embrace one culture without offending the other. It puts this overwhelming feeling over an individual to shapeshift into a persona that is convenient for that time.

Now that I’m eighteen years old and soon heading off to college. A college which happens to be an HBCU, I would say the question about how much of an hispanic I am hasn’t stopped. However, my urge to prove such a thing has been nonexistent. I chose to go to an HBCU because I knew after being in high school full of Hispanic people, my people and facing such discrimination I didn’t wish the four years of my college life to be the same. Doesn’t mean I don’t love my culture or people any less but I welcome this new change in my life to be one made out of love that I deserved better than questioning if I appeased anyone with what I choose to identify with or show as. I want to define what being afro-latina means to me.

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