Throughout my childhood, I never really identified as Afro-Latina. I was just a kid who happened to have two parents who celebrated two different cultures. My mom is Salvadoran and my dad is African-American. As much as I grew up loving the mix of these cultures, to others this was confusing.
Other Afro-Latinas or biracial people will relate to situations like these…
As an Afro-Latina, there are definitely a lot of ups and downs I encountered in regards to my identity and appearance. But one of the biggest downsides was that people often mistaken my mom for my babysitter.
Since my mom is so light-skinned compared to my little brother and I, people always think she’s our babysitter.
And because people find it so hard to believe that she’s actually my mom, I get bombarded with questions like: “So…what are you???”
I get this question almost every single time I meet someone. As annoying as it can be, I’ve decided to just let people struggle for a bit and guess for themselves. The most obvious guesses are Dominican, Panamanian, Hawaiian and Jamaican…all of which are incorrect.
And if for some reason they still can’t seem to wrap their minds around it, I take out my phone show them a picture.
Yup, I always keep a picture of my family in my phone just in case they don’t shut up. 🙂
But when people aren’t bugging me about “what I am,” forms like these are what really frustrate me:
Unfortunately, I don’t really have any other option than to select “other” every time I fill out one of these forms. Sometimes there’s a glorious moment in which they give you the option of “two or more races,” but for the most part, I’m stuck between choosing Latino or Black – even though I’m both.
I’m even felt limited when it came to speaking my own language.
Growing up, my mom told us to keep our Spanish to a minimum if we knew that other people around us couldn’t speak or understand the language. Since my dad’s side of the family didn’t speak Spanish, I was taught that it could be seen as rude, disrespectful, or as if I was trying to hide something. But now that I’m older I’ve tossed those rules out the window. Every single person is entitled to speak whatever language they want – it’s part of their culture and their identity, and I’ll always be proud to be bilingual.
But having conversations with my mom completely in Spanish is one of the best feelings ever.
My dad not being able to understand, nor speak Spanish actually works to my advantage sometimes, especially when I need to tell my mom something I don’t want my dad to know about. Those moments when I get to just sit down and talk to my mom in Spanish, without being criticized or interrupted, are some of the most comfortable moments ever.
As for food, it’s always the best of both worlds.
With the combination of tamales, collard greens, pupusas and hot water cornbread, I *always* look forward to holiday family gatherings. No matter how culturally different my mom’s and dad’s family is, when my abuela and aunties come together in the kitchen, it’s freaking heaven…seriously the best combination ever.
And the same goes for the music. 💃🏽
With my mom’s love for salsa, and my dad’s love for old school R&B, the party playlist at family gatherings is always LIT. Even if my dad’s side of the family doesn’t understand the lyrics to my mom’s Juilo Iglesias jams, they still get up to dance and these are some of the most fun times ever.
Even though I faced frustrating situations for being Afro-Latina (aka myself), growing up with my bestie who was also raised in a dual-cultural household made situations like these more bearable.
We both understood that we weren’t tied down to just one race, one culture, one identity. We both understood that being told we weren’t “Black enough,” “Mexican enough,” “Salvadorian enough,” or “Filipino enough,” was not a comment worth dreading on. We were ourselves, and that was always enough.
I felt like we were like the real Dragon Ball Z fusion – two in one – and we loved and embraced this every single day.
Just like the fusion of Trunks and Gohan in Dragon Ball Z, being both Salvadorian and African-American only makes me a bigger and better person.
Despite the ups and downs, I’d never trade being the best of both minorities for anything.
I’ll always own it and forever be proud. 💖
– By Christina Henderson, as told to Jessica Garcia.