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If You Grew Up In A Biracial Home, These Awkward Situations I’ve Dealt With Will Be Way Too Relatable

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.

CREDIT: CHRISTINA HENDERSON

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???” 

CREDIT: GIPHY

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.

CREDIT: CHRISTINA HENDERSON

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:

 

CREDIT: CHRISTINA HENDERSON

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 often even felt limited when it came to speaking my own language.

CREDIT: CHRISTINA HENDERSON

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.

CREDIT: CHRISTINA HENDERSON

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.

CREDIT: CHRISTINA HENDERSON

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.

CREDIT: CHRISTINA HENDERSON

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 Julio 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.

CREDIT: CHRISTINA HENDERSON

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.

CREDIT: DRAGON BALL Z / OCEAN GROUP

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.

CREDIT: CHRISTINA HENDERSON

I’ll always own it and forever be proud.


– By Christina Henderson, as told to Jessica Garcia.


READ: 11 Awesome Ways Latinos And Filipinos Are Totally Connected


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Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

Culture

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

aruni_y_photography / Instagram

Anyone traveling to the Dominican Republic this summer has likely been met with the cautionary warning; “Don’t drink anything from the minibar.” Eleven tourist deaths on the island in 2019, ranging from natural causes to counterfeit alcohol consumption, have spurred FBI and State Department investigations. Though news of flight and hotel cancellations abounded, I missed my family and refused to let fear stop me from seeing them. Since I lived to tell the tale, here are a few things I learned about my father, about myself, and about the precarious paradise that keeps calling me back.

Billy Joel and Nas have interpreted the “New York state of mind,” and if you have ever visited the Dominican Republic beyond the purpose of tourism, you’ll know that there exists a Dominican state of mind too.

Credit: Dan Gold / Unsplash

Whenever I exit Las Americas or Puerto Plata airports, humidity slaps me in the face, and my Dominican mindset is immediately activated. On this island, electricity does not run 24/7. When the electricity goes, or as we say “se fue la luz,” water doesn’t run from the tap either. All that is left to do is swap your sneakers for flip-flops, and exorcise your need for immediate gratification. It takes practice, and I re-learn this lesson with each visit.

The Dominican Republic is changing fast. 

Credit: zonacolonialrd / Instagram

There is new construction everywhere you look. I sit on the balcony chatting with my father and stare across the street trying to remember how it looked before the apartment building was constructed in that space. I can see from an open doorway on the ground level that wooden boxes are being stacked, and hauled out in front of a business. I tune out my father’s voice as I focus on the shape and size of the boxes. My Spanish needs work, and I ask my father, “Papi, what does ataúd mean?” The business slogan translates to “Quality Coffins.” I think about magic realism traditions in Latin American literature, and I am reminded that so often a country like this juxtaposes disparate images and experiences in such a casual manner. I don’t think I would be able to live across the street from a constant reminder of death anywhere else but on this incongruous island.

We drive to the countryside of El Seibo for a few days.

Credit: fedoacurd/ Instagram

My father syncs his playlist and he directs my sister what song to play next. The first song is by Boy George. I watch my father sing along, and I can’t help but think about the Dominican Republic’s homophobic culture steeped in hyper-masculinity. Same-sex marriage is not recognized on the island, and members of the LGBTQ community continue to face discrimination and violence. I talk to my sister about this later that night, and she tells me small changes are coming to the island. The city of Santo Domingo hosts inclusive events like Draguéalo, where you can even sign up for a Vogue class.

Credit: Draguelao / Facebook

My father’s playlist continues and I’m struck by his selections ranging from Taylor Swift to A.I.E. (A Mwana), a song by a 1970s group called Black Blood, featuring lyrics in Swahili.

I watched this Dominican dad jam across continents, decades, cultures, languages, and race. I realize there is so much I don’t know about him, and so often we shortchange our parents’ knowledge and experience, reducing them to stereotypes and gendered tropes.

My next lesson is on staying sexy.

                                                           Unsplash/Photo by Ardian Lumi 

After a few days in the countryside, my sister and I rent a hotel room in La Zona Colonial. We ready for a night out when she looks at my outfit and asks me, “Um, is that what you’re wearing tonight?” I thought my yellow jumpsuit was poppin’. My sister pulls out a little black dress from her overnight bag and kindly suggests I wear it. The dress is tiny. It’s skimpy. It’s super short. It’s absolutely perfect. I channel my inner Chapiadora, Goddess of Sex Appeal and Free Drinks, and dance all night. 

Growing up in the 90s, I styled myself in oversized men’s clothing. It wasn’t until that one magical summer in the Dominican Republic when the heat was too oppressive to wear jeans, so I wore—gasp—a skirt. That was the first time I felt sexy, and learned the power of sex appeal. Though I wielded that power throughout my twenties, it fell away in my thirties. Wearing my sister’s LBD I realize I still have “it,” and in the Dominican Republic, sex appeal is ageless. Be careful when you come here. You may fall in love with a local, or you may just fall in love with yourself again.

The island leaves me with one last lesson.

It comes late one night, sharing a few bottles of wine with my father and sister. No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver—the worst blind person is the one who refuses to see. I could say the current political landscape in the U.S. reflects this willful ignorance, a refusal to see; yet it is the same human experience felt across space and time.

I come away wondering about my own blind spots.

                                                            Instagram/@rensamayoa

I board my return flight thinking up ways to combat willful ignorance at home, thinking about maintaining that flexible DR state of mind and thinking about buying a little black dress. As tourism in the Dominican Republic picks up again, and unfavorable headlines drop out of the news cycle, this changing island stands in its own plurality welcoming visitors, and offering endless opportunities to teach us something new.

READ:

A Homeowners Association Tried To Keep A Boricua Who Fought For Our Country From Flying Her PR Flag

Culture

A Homeowners Association Tried To Keep A Boricua Who Fought For Our Country From Flying Her PR Flag

screenshot taken from Orlando Sentinel

When hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans came together to demand former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign following leaked chats that revealed political corruption and a series of sexist and homophobic messages, Frances Santiago wanted to stand in solidarity with her people. Living in Kissimmee, Florida, she wasn’t able to protest with her country folk on the archipelago but she demonstrated symbolically by placing her red, white and blue Puerto Rican flag outside of her home. 

Now, the Central Florida Boricua is facing a battle against her own community leaders. Three weeks after putting up the flag, the homeowner received a letter from the Rolling Hills Estates Homeowners Association requesting her to take it down. 

Santiago, an Army veteran who served 14 years as a medic, including two tours in Iraq, says she refuses to remove the flag.

“I fought for this, to be able to do this. So, I don’t see a problem with flying my flag here,” the woman told Orlando-area news station WFTV.

According to HOA bylaws, all flags are outlawed. However, the board made an exception for US flags, sports flags and flags used to honor first responders and fallen officers. Considering these edicts, Santiago is unsure why the group is asking her to remove the flag, as Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.

“Puerto Rico is part of America. What’s the big issue with us having our flag there,” she said.

HOA president Norma McNerney told  WFTV that she’s not asking the Santiago family to remove the flag because it’s from Puerto Rico; however, she did not comment on the island being the colonial property of the US and, thus, meeting the association’s criterion. 

“We treat all owners the same. If you travel through our community, you will see the only flags are those regulated by the state,” McNerney said.

Puerto Ricans have historically been banned from displaying their flag. 

While many tease that Boricuas exhibit their bandera on anything and everything, from their cars and house goods to their clothes and accessories, owning a Puerto Rican flag wasn’t legal until 1957. Nine years prior, on June 10, 1948, la Ley de La Mordaza, better known as the gag law, made it a crime to own or display a Puerto Rican flag, sing a patriotic song or speak or write of independence. The legislation, signed into law by Jesús T. Piñero, the United States-appointed governor, aimed at suppressing the growing movement to liberate Puerto Rico from its colonial ties to the United States. Anyone accused and found guilty of disobeying the law could be sentenced to ten years in prison, be fined $10,000 or both.

Additionally, in Kissimmee, which locals nicknamed “Little Puerto Rico” because of its vast Puerto Rican population, there has been pushback from community members who are not pleased with the demographic changes. City-Data forums warn people interested in moving to Central Florida to beware of Puerto Ricans, who commenters refer to as “roaches,” “criminals,” and the N-word, while news of attacks against Boricuas has become more common. Florida is home to more Puerto Ricans in the contiguous US than any other state. Most of the population resides in the Orlando-Kissimmee area. The region has been the top destination for Puerto Ricans escaping the financial crisis since 2008 and displacement following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. But it is also the prime journey stop for diasporic Puerto Ricans from New York, Chicago, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Massachusetts. The area is among the largest and fastest-growing Puerto Rican communities in the country.

As such, Central Florida Boricuas have rallied around Santiago. An online petition created by the Florida Puerto Rican group Alianza for Progress is asking the HOA to cease their discriminatory practices against Santiago and is already close to meeting its goal of 1,600 signatures. At the time of writing, it is short just 51 names.

Santiago and her husband Efrain have insisted that they have no intention of bringing the flag down.

“[The flag] will stay there and we’ll deal with it; we’ll exhaust every avenue possible,” Efrain said. “We have our house, you see, up to standards. We’re not doing anything wrong. We’re not doing anything to our neighbors by flying our flag.”

While the Santiagos haven’t presently been issued any fines for the violation, they said they do have a lawyer and are prepared to take this fight to protect their freedom further. “I’m proud of my roots, who I am, [where] I come from. We’re not offending anyone. None of the neighbors were offended with us putting the flag there,” Efrain said.

Read: The Governor Of Puerto Rico Was Caught In A Chat Using Grotesque Homophobic And Sexist Language And The Entire Island Is Calling Him To Resign In Massive Protests

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