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.
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.
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.
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.