#WeExist: What it Feels Like to be an Afro-Latina

by previous writer Patricia Rodriguez

If I am being completely honest, I have never been a fan of radio shows. The hosts tend to have big personalities and they constantly interrupt one another. It should come as no surprise that I never liked The Breakfast Club, and Charlamagne “Tha God” and DJ Envy’s recent conversation with Amara La Negra proved to be no exception. In the times that I have listened to The Breakfast Club, I cringed through women degrading themselves to keep up with the equivalent of male locker room banter so they could capitalize on five minutes of fame. Charlamagne profusely limits female guests to what they can do when they get on all fours, and gets his peers to cosign his out-of-pocket comments. And if the guest is Latina? Well, he makes his fetishized mindset clear. Last week, Amara La Negra was a guest on the Breakfast Club. If you’re truly Dominican, then you did not need Love and Hip Hop to become familiar with this beautiful dark-skinned Afro-Latina (I still remember the“Ayyy” dance). During her interview, Amara touched on colorism, which is essentially discrimination based on skin color, and what it means to be an Afro-Latina not only in the United States, but also in any country of Hispanic descent. Her efforts to shed light on a struggle that is dear to many women, including me, was minimized, invalidated, and incomprehensible to the “Tha God.”  “You sure it’s not in your mind?” Charlamagne asked when Amara brought up colorism she’s experienced. DJ Envy said he doesn’t see this kind of discrimination in the neighborhoods he’s in, and even went as far to ask Amara if she thinks Cardi B is lighter than her.I’m zeroing in on “Tha God” because this was not his first time discrediting the experience or even existence of Afro-Latinas. In a 2016 interview on The Breakfast Club, Dascha Polanco from Orange is the New Black talked about identifying as an Afro-Latina because she is a Dominican woman who sees herself as Black.“What’s that?,” Charlamagne asked when Polanco brought up the term Afro-Latina.  “I consider myself to be a Black woman,” Polanco replied. “And I think a lot of Dominicans should because from what I see, that’s what we are.” “You said you consider yourself a black woman, like why not just be Dominican?,” Charlamagne said. It is dangerous for people with large followings to continue spreading ignorance that further marginalizes a group of people with unique experiences that add to the nuance of what it means to be Black. It should be no mystery in 2018 that someone can be Black and Latinx at the same damn time.   Somehow Amara kept her cool. Perhaps because she developed a jadedness to this sort of ignorance that she’s likely been experiencing all her life. This is something I can relate to, but it took a lot of pain, isolation, and self-reflection for me to understand myself as a dark-skinned Afro-Latina and become proud of that.

Becoming Proud Growing up, I suffered several identity crises throughout different periods of my life. Although I was born in the South Bronx, I moved to Madrid, Spain when I was only two months old to reunite with the rest of my family that had moved there many years ago. Spain is one of the whitest countries you’ll ever step foot in. In every school I entered, any restaurant I ate at, or on any bus I rode, I was the token black girl. I always knew that I was Dominican, but because my parents failed to raise me with aspects of my culture, I identified with being a Spaniard. I would grow up struggling to find a sense of belonging. Then came what I believed was the worst day of my life. My mom announced on my way to school, “Patricia, mañana va a ser tu ultimo dia en el colegio. Nos vamos a Nueva York, donde vas a vivir con tu abuela.” Translation: “Patricia, tomorrow will be your last day at school. We are leaving to New York, where you will be living with your grandmother from now on.” This conversation would be the beginning of my journey of finding out who I truly was—an Afro-Latina. On my first day of school in America, I was confused. The girls who were Dominican like me physically did not share any of my characteristics—they were fair-skinned. And then the girls who were Black like me didn’t speak Spanish. So there I was in a bilingual school not only completely lost for most of the day during the classes in English, but I was also searching for someone who would make me feel like I belonged in this country. After many years I grew hopeless.The media didn’t make me feel any less alienated. The three major channels that I was supposed to identify with—Univision, Telemundo, and Telefutura—did not offer an image of anyone that looked like me. Oh wait, no, they did! They remembered people like me to recount the slave narrative that always ended with a dark-skinned person desiring a white woman/man, and making a more socially desirable Hispanic—the mulatto. Dating was no better. Throughout my years of schooling, I constantly overheard the fixation boys had with Latina women, but the surprise came when I realized that despite my heritage, I wasn’t part of what they considered to be sexy. Because of my appearance and my features, I was automatically classified as African American and, well, you all know how African American women are treated in this country. I felt ugly and worthless because not only was I at the bottom of the social totem pole because I was Black, but my own Spanish-speaking people consistently tried to stray away from people who looked like me. Going away for college was revolutionary for me because I was able to learn about myself and grow, and I finally learned what place I hold in society. Lectures introduced me to the term colorism and why it was perpetuated in most of the Spanish speaking countries of America.Did you know that the reason why Dominicans were, or still are, so afraid of being dark was because when they finally gained their independence from Haiti, they wanted to create a new identity for themselves and disassociate from the dark skin color that was attached predominantly to the Haitian population? Through meeting people from different backgrounds, I met multicultural people who also passed as African American because of their features. I learned that I wasn’t a stranger in America anymore, rather, I was an Afro-Latina who sought to advocate for our experiences to be heard LOUD AND CLEAR. I finally mattered, and for the first time ever, I felt whole.

Reaching Our Full Potential So, “Tha God,” and anyone who shares his principles, I have some questions for you. Who are you to tell Amara, or any Afro-Latinx, that the glaring bigotry that we frequently experience is something we are making up in our heads? It takes a lifetime to unpack the fact that you both identify ethnically with the colonizer, but also hate them because of the legacy of pain and divisions that continue today. You have not felt the pain of your family telling you that your kinky curls or “pajon” made you look unkempt and in need of a relaxer. You have not encountered your grandmother demanding you to date someone fair-skinned to “lighten up the race,” and thus you cannot discount the experiences of women like me who have. I still watch the Miss World pageant and never see someone as dark as me represent my country. There are Instagram pages created to empower Latinas without one dark skin person on their feed. Gina Rodriguez, who often posts about Latinx pride, missed the opportunity to highlight Afro-Latinas in her “These are Latinas” posts. While Charlamagne as an individual does not matter to me, his brand of ignorance serves as a gateway to the conversation about the deep issues that Latinx people have to work through. As the largest minority group in the United States, we will never reach our full potential until we can embrace Afro-Latinx people and celebrate them as much as the sexy service worker Latina stereotype that this country thrives on perpetuating. I hope that more Afro-Latinx people continue to speak about our realities so that people know we’re here and that we exist with complexities that can’t be overlooked. You can be sure I will. What do you think about the conversations about the Afro-Latina experience? Are you a fan of Amara La Negra? Let us know in the comments below.

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