What do you identify as: race/nationality/ethnicity/whatever you want to tell me?
I identify as an Afro-Latina woman, American, born from Dominican immigrant parents.
Would you sway towards the Afro side? the Latino side? Do you embrace both equally?
So, my whole life has kind of been a journey in regards to my identification as an Afro-Latina woman. I try to be even, it doesn’t work out. It’s really hard to, but now this is kind of… college is the first time where I’ve been actively trying to be more equal… When I was little, I was definitely rejecting more black and saying I’m Hispanic. I’d correct people a lot about that. Which is you know an important thing. There is that whole ingrained racism thing, but it’s also really fucking annoying to kind of not ever be able to have something without having to tell people, you know? So it’s like I figured the more people… I was like “no, no I’m not black. I’m Hispanic.” And I figured out that my biggest issue with that was if you tell someone “black,” they think African American, and that’s kind of what I was going against more than like actually being black. In the United States, black means African American, generally. Which, it’s like false, there are black people in every race or ethn- you know whatever the word is I forget which one is which. So, I guess that’s kind of what I was fighting against a lot more, obviously I’m very dark. I’m black, but I wouldn’t say that I’m Black, capital B, African American. Now, it’s like I am black and I am Latina; it’s kind of a reclamation for me at this point. I still believe that it is hard to say “black” to someone and have them not think “Oh, so that means you’re African American?”… it’s like no, I’m full Dominican, right? Um.. at this point, this year I found myself, and last year, like really…black womanhood! with all this shit that’s been going down with people getting killed for being black. That gets me really tight. So, I’ve really been embracing my blackness. It’s also the easiest thing for me to embrace because that’s what people see. So, yeah. It’s been interesting. I;ve tried really hard with the whole Latina thing for a while and now it’s like elementary school, middle, high school and now coming into college, fuck that. Yeah, I’m black. Now, it’s like I want there to be more… I want to engage more with my Latinidad as openly as I do with my blackness, which I feel I do and the issue though is it just doesn’t come up as much. In the United States, it’s like talk around Latinas and Latinos is very Mexican and Mexico centered and even Central American. So it’s also hard being this type of Latina, being this Dominican, Caribbean person. For example, my struggles with VISTA ([email protected] group on campus) and SOCA (Students of Caribbean Ancestry), VISTA – super Mexican/Central American centered, SOCA – super Black, Jamaican, Caribbean countries. And you know there’s me, in between the two there and I didn’t feel at home in either. So it’s definitely a lot easier for me to do the black thing. And I do that happily. That’s cool. I would like …. I don’t even know how that would come up… me engaged more with my Latinidad, I don’t know how that would manifest itself, because a lot of it is also internal. I know this about myself, I listen to a shit ton of music in Spanish like all the time, it’s just the shit that people don’t exactly know. I’m not posting articles on the internet about the Dominican Republic, or you know immigration. I’m posting about black shit, and by Black, I mean African American shit. And that’s been kind of interesting for me. I don’t know if that really….
Do you think that the environment at Williams College has kind of pushed this shift in how you’re identifying?
I definitely do. I feel a lot more confident in my Latinidad that I don’t feel the need to assert it so much all the time. And I think that comes from coming here, and one, being around people who are more educated than the people in my high school in that like, I might have to tell you but you can grasp the concept of Afro-Latina, right? Like, it’s something that… by looking at me it’s not something that you can assume right away. But, I can tell you “oh, I’m Dominican” and people would be like “Oh yeah!” whatever. Whereas in high school, people would be like “oh no, you’re Black” and that was annoying. So if you weren’t confident in that and being around people that are not as ignorant. And there’s also, I also got over myself. It’s like I came here and no one really cares. I mean, yeah they are capable of understanding, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. My friends know, other Dominicans on campus know because we talk about it. And like that’s really all you can do, and I’m chill enough with that to kind of stick with it so I guess Williams have shifted it in that I feel more comfortable with being out there with my blackness, and no longer feeling that if I’m saying all of this… if I’m more into that and feeling blackness, it’s not taking away from my Latinidad.
I’m going to shift a little bit… Is there anything that you can say about your family life and your experiences at home as an Afro-Latina woman? Anything that you think … you wouldn’t have experienced if you weren’t Afro-Latina? Or even things in your community.
I’d say one is I’m very, very culturally Hispanic… for sure. The culture in my house, my parents are immigrants. It was all Spanish in the house, the food, the music, all of that stuff. My mom’s attitude. The way I grew up was in a Dominican household … as Dominican and you could get in Texas. It’s not like I had family to add on to that experience. I was born in Florida. We don’t have any extended family at all. It’s interesting… things that people assume I might know about Black-American, African-American culture that’s honestly not a thing at all.. I’ve learned way more things about black culture here at Williams than I ever did at home. Because even then, I didn’t have black friends, because I didn’t connect to them in this level. My friends were white and Mexican. So that was an interesting experience, I guess, and seeming like a defect in that way. Not like “bougie,” but like white-washed. Seeming whitewashed because I couldn’t roll with the black kids, and it was mostly because I genuinely [didn’t know]. Another interesting thing that isn’t unique to Afro-Latina experience, but definitely differences in color. My dad and I are dark, my mom and my sister are light. I’m sure biracial people deal with that too, but like that was interesting. I’d go out with my mom and my sister all of the time, and it was weird being the little… they’re like “you” colored (I have light skin). There’s the ever present hair thing. That was annoying. My mom did our hair. You know she did the desrizados, the relaxers, every 6 weeks. like clockwork. It’s like having all of these black features, African features, and like my mom lowkey being like this is wrong…we’re going to do what we can to fix it, which you know also happens in Black American families, but sometimes the mother also looks that way. My mother definitely has more European features.
Comparing your mom and your dad, what are the differences between them? Because you say you’re very similar to your dad, and now you’re talking about your mom and how certain things were “wrong” even though they weren’t… but I’m assuming that’s just…
The way that she was raised. My dad looks like a black man, got my terrible eyesight from him. He also wears glasses. Nose, hair, totally… skin color, yes. My sister is really funny. She just looks like a mixed or light skinned black person. She has my mother’s skin color but she has everything… she has very African features. My mom has a pointy nose, she’s has like a normal face, her hair is wavy, it was obviously very curly. But she kept it short, so it’s like wavy. Yeah, you would look at her and know that she was Hispanic, and you would not look at my dad and know he was Hispanic unless you were paying attention.
Going further into that, you were talking about certain attitudes and mentalities that your mom had, and how would you compare that with your dad?
My dad is an attitude kind of guy. He’s like if you have the right attitude and know how to talk to people, you’ll get far in life, which is very optimistic of him. My mom she… well one we’re daughters. She wouldn’t have given nearly as much of a shit if we were little boys of course. Attitudes that she had was definitely there is a way that you look when you’re in public, or in general, to be a human. And the way that you look is not running around with hair like mine. So straight hair. Clothing, early 2000’s no one was stylish, so that wasn’t a thing. Definitely, there was… outward appearances were very important to my mom, and that translated into other things too. Definitely, not how we looked, but also how we acted in public. We had to be very obedient and quiet. It was really funny, because it wasn’t so much “you need to be disciplined children in public” it was like “you need to look disciplined.” Which obviously translated into us being disciplined because you know we were scared of her. One summer camp, we went swimming. We weren’t supposed to go swimming because we can’t wet our hair. We went swimming, we didn’t have swimming caps. We were literally grounded for the rest of the summer, this was a huge ass deal, because we wet our hair at summer camp. My mom has a big stick up her ass with our hair, and also we acted, but for other people’s benefit rather than to know how to act.
You spoke a little bit about your interactions with black peers in school when you were younger… On the flip side, what were your interactions with Hispanic/Latino peers?
My exposure to other Latino cultures is very concentrated around Mexican culture. Everyone who is Hispanic who I’ve ever pretty much known has been Mexican. So, problems with that is that if they were Caribbean… like maybe if they were from Florida, they would be able to grasp and understand Afro-Latinidad being more of a thing. That wasn’t a thing. So if it ever came up, and I was like “Oh, I do know Spanish” they would go “Oh prove it!” and would start speaking in Mexican Spanish. I don’t know Mexican slang. Colloquialisms, and words “Oh, what does this mean?” Which I obviously learned over time, it was really frustrating. I don’t [have to prove]. People would be like “Oh, then you speak!” and I don’t like speaking Spanish because one, I knew it was different Spanish and two, I feel like I’m under a lot of scrutiny. For example, if you (a lighter skinned person) were speaking Spanish and made a grammatical error, it’s just like the way you’re talking, whereas me making errors is lying or faking. Same thing with English, me making a mistake or using double negatives when I speak is different from when my dad does it because he has a strong ass accent. “Oh you don’t know English” versus with me “Oh you’re just lazy.” I feel that same kind of thing with my family because I am American and they’re from the Dominican Republic. There’s a lot of prove it! I don’t believe you! I don’t have an accent. No visual markers. So I didn’t really.. my Mexican friends also hung out with more of the white kids. There were the four caps: white kids, Asian kids, Mexican kids, and black kids. Me and my Mexican friends were part of the white kids.
How did you cope with both treatments from the Hispanic and Black kids in terms of your identification? We go through a lot of identity politics within ourselves when we are younger.
I coped with it by kind of not coping with it. It was my own form of racism, I feel like my hair… For example, all of the braids.. the cornrows and braids that the black kids had, I never had that. MY mom would have rather cut my head off than do that. I remember thinking a lot about hair when I was little… I was into it. I remember I was really concerned with… at my elementary school, there was the typical housing complex in the suburbs, and right next to that there were all of these town houses. The town houses were where all of the black kids got off of the bus. I got off at the houses because my parents were pretty chill with money for a while. I always made it a point to let people know that I don’t live in the town houses. Definitely separating myself from the other black kids. It also didn’t help that my whole elementary career, whatever the equivalent of the gifted and talented program is, within that there were not black children. I definitely had a superiority complex, because I had people telling me my whole life that I was smart, and also my hair was nice, whatever that means. There weren’t that many Mexican kids at my elementary school to be honest. That came up more in high school, because that’s when all of the elementary schools merged together. That’s when I started seeing that, and by that time I was over myself a little bit in high school. And then, I just didn’t talk to them because they were assholes.
Follow up question: If you could give a concrete or not so concrete definition of being Afro-Latina what would it be?
I think being Afro-Latina is a lot of things, technically I’d say black people from Latin countries, but when you can actually tell by looking that someone is black it makes a difference. Like me versus my friend for example. She identifies as Afro-Latina which is chill but she’s white as fuck. So I think if you’re too black for people to believe you know Spanish.