Living My Truth as an Afro-Latina

Afro-Latina. An identity. A truth. A median between two paths that intersect like tree vines. It is about embracing my roots and recognizing my African diaspora, along with my Latin heritage. La negra en mi means my ancestors did not pass into oblivion. My skin the color of cinnamon, my luscious curls coiled like springs, and my full lips are all proof, beautiful in all their glory, that I come from somewhere. My ancestors live through me; my skin a constant reminder of their struggle and the identity that was stripped from them. It means I find beauty and love in what was taken from them. It means that I live out my truth as they never could.

 Although we exist in large populations throughout many Spanish-speaking countries, especially in the Caribbean, there are many people who don’t identify in this way because of the stigma surrounded by having darker skin as a Latina. We were colonized so poorly, to the point where so many want to identify with being white so much; they look down on darker skin tones. This resulted in racism amongst our own people. Many Latinas choose to ignore their African origin because they’ve been told their entire lives that to identify in that way is wrong. Latinas with lighter skin are praised, while darker Latinas are neglected. So many people grow up wanting to “fit in” with those with lighter complexions because it has been instilled into our minds that it is the ideal image of what a Latina should look like. To be beautiful and to be dark-skinned are two ideas that seemed worlds apart.

The lack of representation of Afro-Latinas in the media heavily reflects on the colorism that exists within our community. Channels such as Telemundo and Univision never had Latinas with darker complexions, furthering the disconnection. The only representation most of us can remember is Celia Cruz. The struggle of being “too dark” to be Latina and “too light” to be black has weighed down on the shoulders of many, creating a burden as they struggle to identify themselves; belonging to both communities and never fully feeling accepted by either.

Being dark in the Latina community isn’t considered beautiful. There is this constant reminder that being dark is bad, and most of us eventually submit to this ideology that having these features make us less in comparison to light-skin Latinas. So many Afro-Latinas reject their features; straightening their hair, wishing they were lighter, trying to lessen who they are. When we hear comments regarding our appearance, whether it be from someone of another race or even our own people, we are expected to handle them with poise. So many try to force us into a box. We constantly have to belittle ourselves and seem smaller than others as an Afro-Latina because they already think we’re doing the most as a person of darker complexion. This can no longer continue. If you’re being honest with yourself, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else says, because there is no one way to be Latina. You can’t put someone else’s opinion above your own.

Latinas exist in a rainbow of shades, ranging from deep browns to fair tones, all of which do not determine how Latina you are. There has always been this belief that being black and being Latina were mutually exclusive. It’s so unfortunate to see how quickly we forget where we come from. Our stories cannot be checked into boxes. Our community and our culture are a beautiful result of the melting of two distinct paths merging at a point of vulnerability. Where there is animosity, there should be love. So many years of education, yet nobody ever taught us how to love ourselves as we are. Just because I am both doesn’t make me any less than one. Weighing one over the other is not an option for me. Why should I have to choose? I am both. To be both is beautiful.

For those who are still struggling, who are still experiencing this discrimination and lack of understanding, know that there are people out there who have had this burden lifted off their shoulders. Taking comfort in who you are and embracing your Negrita will relieve you of this pain. Do not apologize for your blackness because someone thinks you should look a certain way. You are bold and beautiful. May you have the courage to embrace all that you are in a world that tries its best to make you seem less.

Courtesy: Embracing Diversity