By: Eva Reyes
‘I am Afro-Latina’
The first time I ever heard the term Afro-Latino was at a community center where I attended a youth empowerment program. I remember hearing it and thinking, “That’s me. Finally, something that describes who I am.” While I didn’t know it at the time, I came to learn that the term “Afro-Latino” referred to a Latin American person with Black African ancestry.
My family is from Central America and while most of us just said Latino, I knew there was more to my identity than just that. My family is like an assorted box of chocolate. There are milky white pieces and caramels with the perfect touch of sweetness, but most of all the box is filled with dark chocolate.
Ribbons of dark skin and kinky curly hair that embraced me and [help] I feel at home. Terms like, “Negro” and “Africano” were endearing and used in jest. Though in my home we all loved our curls and complexion, I knew the outside world was unlike this.
In our home, we embraced our blackness but even when I was younger I felt the outside world was different. People would often ask if I was mixed because of my brown skin and curly hair. I usually just said “No, I’m not mixed” and tried to move on. At the time, I did not understand why people would even ask. I later came to know it was because I looked different—I did not fit into the picture of Latino or Black that they were used to seeing.
In our home, we embraced our blackness but even when I was younger I felt the outside world was different.
This became true even for my fellow Black & Brown folks. Explaining to people that my mom is from Honduras and my dad is from Guatemala did not make a difference. What did they care about my story? Most only cared about what they saw in front of them, my outside appearance, and they made sure that I knew it. It did not matter what color or creed the person came from, many reactions to me were the same-negative.
I learned quickly that I would not be accepted like I was I home. As I grew older, I received racism from what felt like everyone and everywhere and have been called derogatory terms in English and Spanish. In some ways leaving me feeling like, I had to choose who I wanted to be if I wanted to fit in.
Once I remember being specifically asked, “Which side are you on? Black or Mexican?” I just stood there-I didn’t know what to do.
Navigating the schoolyard was hard when I was younger. Living in South Los Angeles does have its own challenges, and I often found myself in identity crises when there was racial tension at school. There were a couple “race wars” in my high school. Occasions when students for one reason or another turned to hate each other and center it on race.
Once I remember being specifically asked, “Which side are you on? Black or Mexican?” I just stood there-I didn’t know what to do. My mind went racing at the question. First of all, I wasn’t Mexican-it’s the stereotype that assumes all Latino people in LA are Mexican—still I knew what he meant. When the shit hits the fan, whose side will you be on? At the time, it was perhaps the most fully loaded question I had ever heard. Who’s side, which one?
My one was an intertwining of culture and conquest. My ONE could not be loaded into a single binary of Black or Mexican—of Black or Brown. My truth was and is Black and Brown. I could not just pick one. If I picked one, then I would have to know that I only picked one. I would choose to deny my story, all my people, and a piece of who I was. Choosing one side meant I chose to hate. How could I pick one? How could I be asked to pick sides? Although they didn’t know it, they were asking me to tear myself apart. I didn’t. The question left me so confused, I stood there in silence until he walked away-frustrated because I never answered.
Embracing my Blackness and my Central American culture is a crucial part of who I am as an Afro-Latina. The crises I have been able to work through with my own identity have left me feeling solidified. Though when I was younger I brushed off questions about race, today I always say “Afro-Latino” when asked about my own. Doing so can spark a conversation and bring awareness to a culture that is often rejected or even forgotten about. Knowing that both black and brown are my one culture I feel enriched and I’m proud to say, “I am Afro-Latina.”