You Speak Spanish?

“Yo, you watch Love & Hip Hop: Miami?” read a text from an old friend. In the two seconds it took me to read the message, I thought to myself, if this fool tries to tell me that I remind him of Amara La Negra, he’s getting blocked. And he did, in fact proceed to tell me that I reminded him of her and I did, in fact proceed to tell him that he was getting blocked. Let’s just say this, Amara is gorgeous, a beautiful chocolate drop with an amazing body who is really doing big things. However, I am not her. The only reason I get the comparison is because I’m a shade of chocolate and I wear my natural hair out like so. That was not the first time I’d gotten that comparison. I used to work at a restaurant where one of my co-workers would call me “Amara”. At first, I thought she just heard my name wrong. My name is Beata (bee-ah-ta). While there was no malice in her actions or his, these actions reinforce an underlying ignorance and unless we have more conversations about it, we’ll never progress.

Two years ago, I wrote my very first piece on how it was easier to be Hispanic than it was to be Black. Growing up, there was always a part of me that was just ridiculously conflicted as to who and what I was. “You’re not Black” … but I am. “Yo, you’re black” … but I’m Dominican too. Two parts of my identity that left me in what seemed like a constant tug of war – the winner being the superior race. Raised by my Black side with occasional trips to the Bronx on Sundays to visit my Dominican side, I inherited the best of both worlds. I speak Spanish fluently and with no shame, I am Dominican. But, my blackness is so ingrained in my identity and because it took me way too long to love that side of me, I get a little defensive at even the slightest hint of ignorance.

The thing is, I can’t even count on my hands the amount of times someone has been surprised at my ethnicity after what felt like a big reveal. It’s like a hat trick …. Ta-dah! I get ogled at like a mystery, as if it’s so hard to comprehend that a Black man and Dominican woman got together and reproduced … who would’ve thunk it? And the wildest part of it all, is that the confusion mainly comes from Dominicans who are … I kid you not, only a few shades lighter than me if not the same shade. To those who don’t understand what it feels like, I’m just ranting but to those who get it, I’m preaching gospel.

For example, the minute I decided to go natural and truly love and accept my hair for the texture that it is, (even on days when it betrays me), I learned that people were going to have opinions about it and that I was expected to care. As a form of protective styling, I often wear wigs or faux dreadlocks or even braids. The amount of times people have made comments about the ways in which I wear my hair and what they prefer as if their preference had any relevance on my life is just ridiculously frustrating. I shouldn’t have to explain to another person why I wear my hair out in its natural form or why my hair isn’t “bad” or “crazy”. As if a Black/Hispanic woman’s hair is not her crown? As if other cultures don’t imitate the same styles that you criticize us for? But I digress ….

Going back to Amara, her characters introduction to the Love & Hip Hop franchise was followed by what became a serious and informative discussion of what an Afro-Latina is. It’s always been a thing, however it is only now that people are beginning to coin and identify with the phrase. During Amara’s interview with The Breakfast Club on Power 105.1, the first thing she was asked was “What are you?” and when she identified herself as Afro-Latina, she was seemingly ridiculed for using the term. She was questioned on her feelings about colorism in the industry and essentially told that what she felt and her experiences weren’t real. The behavior exhibited during that interview comes from a lack of education and understanding. Dominicans are told time and time again, that they are indeed Black, whether they choose to acknowledge it and/or believe it is a different story. However, I’ve also come to realize that the minute they do claim the race but do not physically appear Black, they are essentially interrogated as to what makes them Black enough.

So, let’s discuss – what exactly is an Afro-Latina? Is it someone who is Black but also Latin or is it someone who is Latin but acknowledges that within their Latin roots also lies African roots as well? The answer is: it is both. The term Afro-Latina/o refers to Latin American people of significant African ancestry. One can be both unapologetically Black, understanding the plights of being black and living the Black experience while also being a proud Hispanic and indulging in that culture too. One doesn’t reduce the other. This discussion isn’t limited to those who are Afro-Latino, it speaks for those who are Black and “other” made to feel as though they couldn’t be both simultaneously.

Over the years, I’ve had many people try to tell me that I wasn’t “Black enough” or that they were “Blacker than me” when in fact they weren’t even Black to begin with. It begs the question, what even is Black enough? Is there a standardized test? Is there a certain kind of stereotype that I’m expected to portray? Is the way I identify and my ancestral roots not enough? I used to literally hide from the sun on vacation when I was younger for fear of getting darker because the idea of getting darker than I already was terrified me. Growing up, I constantly had people telling me that I was such a pretty “Black girl” and even now, I still hear it. I’m made to believe that I’m a different standard type of black girl amongst Hispanics, not like the other black girls, whatever that may be … because I’m “educated and have manners”. You can understand how wild that seems, right? Because all of the other black girls that I know are all of those things and more.

These days, I remain grateful for the ways in which Black Excellence and Black Girl Magic has arisen over the past few years aiding in my self-acceptance and self-discovery. I’ve since come to understand that it’s okay to be both Hispanic and Black and I’ve become quite proud of it. It’s a frustrating feeling when I have to take the time to explain to someone why I love the qualities about myself that are in my genetic makeup and I know that I’m not the only one. In a time where Black Panther reigns supreme … (WAKANDA FOREVER) … and the beauty of being black is now essentially shown and appreciated worldwide, I have to say that these conversations are of utmost importance. To those who feel a constant unacceptance of who they are for reasons they can’t understand, I feel you. But I’ve learned that the minute you start loving yourself, you force others to love you for you too. In the words of Issa Rae, “I’m Rooting For Everybody Black.” – Afro-Latinos included.

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8 thoughts on “You Speak Spanish?

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  1. Beata, I had another thought to share after talking: your post shines a bright light on the ability to own/claim race and ethnicity rather than misconflating race and ethnicity or feeling compelled to choose race or ethnicity. In this country because of systemic constructions of race and institutionalization of racism, there has been such a strong legacy of marking people as White-or not. Your essay is going to be fuel for so many critical conversations.

    Liked by 1 person

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