Multiracial Family

Afro- Latina: Parenting in the Hyphen; My life as an Afro-Latina Mom

I was born in the Bronx, NY to immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic. Growing up in the states meant that I was taught about American history. However, I started to learn about my Dominican history at the age of 34, when tasked to write a paper for grad school. At that moment I confirmed what I’ve always known…I exist at an obscure junction between being African and Latina. I live in the hyphen of Afro-Latina. In his book,The Future of the Latino Church, Daniel Rodriguez states living in the hyphen is the space “between multiple influences that affect our identity.” The harsh reality of my youth is that I belonged to two completely different worlds that might never truly accept me completely.

 

Being raised by immigrant parents meant that walking through our apartment door, I was literally entering the Dominican Republic (DR). Taking the elevator down 30 flights to ground level entered me back into America. In his book Mi Casa Uptown, my dear friend Rich Perez describes this stark contrast as living the remezcla. He goes on to say that the remezcla is “living in a tension that has the power to either devastate us or help us harness great power and influence of how we’ve been created.” My remezcla moments are layered and complex. My younger years were filled with devastating tension but as I grew in understanding, I have harnessed the power of being an Afro-Latina.

Mami and I, 2015

Mami and I, 2015

Papi and I at Central Park, NYC  

Papi and I at Central Park, NYC  

Although I was named after my Mami, I’m the spitting image of my Papi. Like my dad, I am often catergorized as being a black American and yet that’s only partially correct. In America, we are obsessed with putting people in a box. We want to clump people into the same category because it makes us feel safe. Here is the challenge…my color may be black, but my history is not black American. Internally, I identify as Latina. This complex way of viewing myself is often hard for people to understand especially due to my skin color. Being born to Dominican parents gave me a rich, flourishing culture, and beautiful language embedded in my DNA. To identify only as black would be to deny a large part of myself. Something I simply cannot do. This is why living in this hyphen is so isolating. To identify as Latina does not require denying my African descent. In fact, according to scholar Silvio Saillant, “blacks and mulatos make up nearly 90% of the Dominican population.” This solidifies my African roots which I love and am extremely proud of.

The challenge is that for far too long light-skinned Latinos have been the poster child for our people around the world. Our Latino media is often riddled by colorism. Colorism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically of people of the same ethnic or racial group.” That false narrative has created a sad ideology. Dominicans often refer to themselves as “indios” (indigenous) rather than black because of their colorism ideologies. It’s actually more complex than that. What’s amazing about 2018 is that Afro-Latinos everywhere are breaking free of this narrative. Exhausted of having to constantly fight for our remezcla moment, we challenge that narrative and communicate who we truly are to the world. The folks at Remezcla Entertainment have an outstanding clip that challenges the ideas of race and culture in Latin America.

Parenting from the hyphen hasn’t always been an easy practice to maneuver. I often take for granted that my son lives his life in a different hyphen than I do. This means I have to be intentional about making space for him to educate me about his own narrative. I am deliberate about asking him questions like, “what does it feel like to be biracial and live in a small rural community in the South?” I will never understand what it feels like for him and I lean on him often to guide me. He in turn shows me the best way to advocate and protect him. On the same note, I too want to teach him three things I have learned from my Afro-Latina experience so far.

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1. Stand up for yourself, even if that means standing alone. I want him to be brave as he faces adversity. In order for him to do that, it is important that he understands that racism is not his fault. He will need to know that standing up for himself may look different depending on the situation. For example, giving him practical tools about how to handle potential dangerous situations like police stops. Teaching him that in such an instant, standing up for himself is tied to knowing his rights and not resisting.

2. Always be willing to educate others. It’s easy to walk away when you have been offended, but its brave to stay and educate. A great example on this is when I speak. Typically, people assume I am not Latina by my appearance but when I speak they immediately ask me “where are you from?” This is a great time to educate them on being Afro-Latina. Another time I was asked “Hey! How did you learn to speak Mexican?” Taking the time to educate someone can be just as rewarding for him as it is for the person asking the question.

3. Don’t let anyone else dictate your narrative. I am still discovering what it means to be living in his hyphen. With that being said, my experience is my own. No one should attempt to tell me who I am or what box I belong in. My son is not just an adopted kid. His story is bigger than his adoption and his race but that doesn’t mean the two don’t matter. One of my favorite authors, Brene’ Brown puts it like this, “Owning your story and loving ourselves through that process is one of the bravest things that we’ll ever do.” As parents of multiracial children we have to be intentional about learning from them about their story, respecting who they are, and discovering what they need to thrive. By doing this, we will teach them that their story has value. When they know their narrative matters, they will never let anyone tell them who they think they are. May I never lose sight that although my son and I share our love of things like church, marvel movies, and travel we are also different and that’s ok.

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Although living in the hyphen has not always been easy, I believe it has made me a better parent. My hyphen experiences prepared me to understand of what it feels like to be prejudged by others and to own my own story. My son has experienced prejudgments regarding his adoption story, ethnicity and race.  We have experienced many hyphen moments together like the first time he read his DNA results or the first time he was called a racial slur.  Both moments impacted us deeply. One was meant to devastate and the other helped him harness his power. What we have learned is that our hyphen moments may make us laugh, cry or call us to be brave. I am blessed to know we will experience them together.

He and I last weekend, 1-2018

He and I last weekend, 1-2018

Adoption: A glimpse into the day our son was born

Like many adoption stories, ours begins with loss. After many trips to the fertility specialist and a major loss in March of 2005 it was evident that starting a family in the traditional sense was not going to be a viable option for us. Losing a pregnancy is a hard ambiguous loss. 

Do you want to be pregnant or be a mom?

Sitting in my bitterness I reached out to my mom. I remember in the middle of having a heartbreaking conversation with her she asked me the following. “Do you want to be pregnant or do you want to be a mom, because they are not the same thing?” Can you imagine how wild it was to hear those words from my own mother when I was in the middle of my career as an adoption social worker? If I’m being honest, adoption was always in my heart. 

Meeting our son’s birth mom was scary and exciting. Would she like us? Would she turn and run? The moment we met her we were all in. She was beautiful, caring, and committed to her decision. As time went on we became friends. Can you imagine that?

In the months leading up to his birth, we spent a great deal of time together. I accompanied her to medical appointments, developed a delivery plan, and discussed what interactions would look like after he was born. I felt so honored when she introduced the idea that I be in the delivery room with her. What sticks out the most was her desire to give our son (hers and mine) the life she never had.

In hindsight, I can say that we grew to love her before we even met him. Loving her was something I could not have anticipated and yet it was easy. You see, how could I not love the woman that gave me my son? Without her life and love I would not be a mother and the magnitude of her sacrifice is not lost on me.

One warm November morning she called early. Her water broke and contractions were strong. She wanted us to meet her at the hospital! My heart stopped. Everything moved very quickly after that. I remember getting in the car and thinking when we come back home we will be parents.

If I’m being honest, there was a fear that set in as well. What if after she met him she would decide not to place him with us? That’s when I remember God gently reminding me that he was in control no matter the outcome. In faith I stepped out.

We arrived and spent an hour staring at one another fueled with fear and anticipation. This is when I am reminded that adoption, in all its beauty, is not a natural process. Every adoption experience is different and I was standing in the middle of ours.

  • Our Moses Moment 

We sat with her, held her hand during the hard contractions and I quietly prayed for her and our son. After about 2 hours and her contractions settling down she encouraged us to go get some food in the cafeteria. We were sitting down to eat when the call came in. It was her nurse, “Get here now or you’ll miss it.”

I ran into the room and witnessed the moment my son entered this world. What an amazing, breathtaking moment God gave me.  He was perfect. He looked just like her. He was loved and I cut the cord.  Scripture tells the story of Moses an adopted child. The name Moses comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to pull out/draw out.” This was our Moses moment.

Daddy gives him his first bottle. 

Daddy gives him his first bottle. 

Was I the first to hold our handsome child? No. It was his Daddy. He was the first to hold and feed this new person that would come to change our lives forever. I believe becoming His father changed Heath forever. When evening set in Heath went home to get the house ready for our guy before he came back. That gave his two mom’s time alone.

He slept a while we talked about him. 

He slept a while we talked about him. 

Together,  in my room with him we both laughed, cried, and shared stories of our childhood. I tried to remember every detail of her story so that I could share it with him as he grew. This time together is forever etched in my soul.

When the time came to go home, she left first. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for her to walk away. I went to say goodbye, embrace her, and thank her for her sacrifice and love. We both knew this would not be the last time we would see each other for we are forever tied together.

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Adoption: Where Did You Get that Baby?

I will never forget the day we brought our son home from the hospital. He was small, pink, and perfect.  We were scared to death and overjoyed all at the same time. I remember the first time I felt like we finally hit a routine.  As many of you know, bringing an infant home from the hospital is no small task. I remember thinking “Why did I move away from home again? Away from all my family and away from all the help in the world.” After weeks of no sleep, and showers only when my husband got home from work, I finally felt like we had a routine. What our routine didn’t include was a whole lot of outside time!

-Our first family photo 2005-

-Our first family photo 2005-

This particular afternoon with stroller in hand we braved the cold in the small town we lived in. We took a small tour of our local neighborhood and at the end when we had nearly reached our driveway saw our elderly neighbor from across the street come outside. She was saying something which I didn’t quite make out. I asked her to say it again as I hadn’t heard her the first time. “Where did you get that baby?” she repeated, this time a bit louder so I could understand.

Where did you get that baby?

I could understand why she was curious. Having not been pregnant or discussed our adoption with anyone but close family and friends, and seeing me here and now with this little baby was a shock. As our conversation continued, I quickly realized she wasn’t curious but rather concerned. I graciously explained that we were in the process of adopting our handsome son, but her expression let me know she wasn’t comfortable with the situation at all. What happened next still gives me chills. As I walked down the road, she called her nephew, a police officer, to come and figure out where I “got” our baby.

Think about that for a minute. How did I feel when he approached me?  How could I feel? Humiliated. Here I was, a government employee having to explain to another government employee who my son was and a brief story of his adoption. Humiliating for both he and I. I wasn’t ready for that encounter or many others we have experienced over the last 12 years.  I share most of these stories and what I have learned from them during my speaking engagements because I think it’s necessary for other adoptive parents to hear that they’re not alone and that they can thrive. The first lesson I immediately learned after this event was this neighborhood would never fully embrace our family. That year we sold the house and moved to a great neighborhood with very accepting neighbors.

I was ill prepared to address the interactions that were surely to come.

This encounter taught me that I was ill prepared to address the interactions that were surely to come. Over the years I have learned valuable lessons about how to parent in a way that embraces and educates our community regarding our multiracial family and our adoption journey.  This is why I believe that parents that have adopted interracially need to understand that parenting your (adopted) child will require additional skills that you may not currently possess but that you can learn.

 

 

Multiracial Love: Nineteen

We've been conditioned to believe  that marriage is a declining experience. That love fades with every passing year. That our wedding day will always surpass our anniversary. If you have married your best friend that is not the case. I married mine after only 4 months of dating. 

 You see real love sees the past as the bottom of the mountain. It sees time as history. It sees length as depth. Tonight I tell my guy that after 19 years our love isn't diminishing its deepening. Here’s to 19 years growing in love with you Heath. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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We dated for 4 months. At month five we were engaged and by month 9 our wedding was in full swing.  

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 Celebrating another anniversary with this man will never get old or be taken for granted.

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 Nineteen years loving each other well. Together we have built a home and a family. Te Amo!

 

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Multiracial Love: The "New" South

In a lot of ways my family represents the (new) South. We are interracial, in love, and doing life like everyone else in the South. We work, have a mortgage, and go to the town festivals. Our Sundays are spent at a multiracial church where two of our core values are loving people unconditionally and standing united. On Sunday mornings, our Church truly contradicts Martin Luther King’s thought that “ the most segregated time in America is Sunday mornings.” The south is more diverse and progressive than many may think. That is why as a born and bred New Yorker I chose to stay.

However, we don’t lose sight on the fact that it was just 47 years ago that our marriage was not just unheard of but forbidden in North Carolina. The amendment, outlawing interracial marriage, remained a part of the North Carolina Constitution until 1971. It still shocks me to know that 47 years ago our family would not be recognized as a family.

At times we do still experience racism in real tangible ways. For example, when my husband and I go out on date night, yes after 19 years I still date my handsome fella, we are given separate checks. Small I know, but it still has a huge impact. It doesn’t happen every once in a while, it happens every time. I’ll never forget the time my hubby went to a local pizza joint with our son and he was asked if he was our son’s “social worker.” Or how about the time my son was called a ‘nigger’ at summer camp by a 4-year-old. I could go on and on about the disrespectful way some have treated our family but when you are at the heart of changing the way people view families it will come with challenges.

It’s not always easy to have to explain to our son at such a young age that some may never like him because he is multiracial. Too many times we have been forced to have difficult conversations with him about why things are different for us.  So why stay?

Why Stay...

We stay because we see hope. Hope in our friends who are raising multiracial children in our area. Hope in churches like ours showing what it means to love one another deeply. Hope in our family that we are changing the narrative about what it means to be a multiracial family in the South. Hope in knowing that our family is a Southern family with strong values and love of all people. We are the new South and proud of it.

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Multiracial Families: Not Unicorns

I love to see multiracial families in my community. Growing up in NYC seeing a multiracial family is something I took for granted. Here in the south, it’s another story. Therefore, when I see others that look like us I am excited. I want to run up to them and hug them. Do worry, I don’t. I don’t stare or linger as many do when they see my little family but it warms my heart. It helps us feel not so alone on this journey.

Unicorn: a mythical animal typically represented as a horse with a single straight horn projecting from its forehead.
— Webster Dictionary

Seeing other multiracial families solidifies my thought that we are not unicorns. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Twilight Sparkle as much as the next fairy princess!  However, seeing other multiracial families in the South forces a new conversation.  A new narrative if you will. 

The new narrative is one that shows the world that multiracial families are strong and full of love. That we are thriving and happy and that its ok.  One in which multiracial marriages are not fetishsized but rather welcomed into the fold. Staring at us while we are eating dinner or shopping at target only makes you look ignorant and makes or family feel isolated. We are not mystical beings, we are flesh and bone just like you. 

I want people to know that yes I am Afro-Latina, my husband is white, and we are raising our multiracial (adopted) son in a small farming town in North Carolina with the same hopes and dreams that they have for their families. Like many families in America, we want our son to grow up with a strong sense of family and hope our relationship provides him with a model for what a healthy, loving, partnership looks like. Like any family, we celebrate the ups and work through the downs together. Like all families in America, we are not unicorns.

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Like many families in America, we want our son to grow up with a strong sense of family