What It’s Like Attending A Black College As A Latina

Vanity Duran

Florida A&M University is one of the largest Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) in the nation. I grew up in a predominantly Latino area where universities weren’t really spoken much about, much less HBCUs. Many of my friends are black, so when I went to visit FAMU, I felt right at home. I decided to attend an HBCU because tuition is relatively less expensive, and I got a full-ride my first year. However, it wasn’t until I started FAMU that I encountered culture shock. Being Latina at an HBCU has helped me grow into the person I am today… a proud Afro-Latina. I was able to connect my roots and discover who I truly am. I gained amazing opportunities that will have a lifelong impact.

1. You repeatedly have to explain to your parents what an HBCU is.

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Your parents may not really understand exactly what an HBCU is except for the fact that majority of the students and faculty are African-American and black. HBCUs were created at a time when segregation was legal. They were created for African-American and black students who weren’t allowed to go to traditional colleges and universities and were open for every other potential student, as well. These days, HBCUs have a culturally diverse student population because of their distinct educational opportunities, like small classes, close partnerships with companies, relatively inexpensive tuition, special scholarships for minorities and high-achieving scholars, and a family-like environment.

2. Once you’re on campus, people either want to know if your hair is real…

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“What texture of weave is that?” Um, real? But don’t be offended! It can be taken as a compliment. Hey, sometimes even you’ll be influenced to put weave in your hair. It’s fun!

3. Or ask if you do hair because you’re Dominican. 1

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For some reason, black people love to have Dominicans press their hair. It’s in high demand and if you know how to do this, you can definitely make a living off of doing hair.

4. Because you’re Latina, some assume you attract a lot of people.

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Yes, as a one of the few Latinas on campus, people will look at you because you stand out, but everyone’s totally wrong for expecting you to look like all the Latina actresses they’ve seen on TV. Not everyone has the J.Lo booty or Sofia Vergara accent.

5. Of course, you’re expected to throw it down in the kitchen.

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Be careful when telling someone you can cook because they definitely don’t mean Ramen noodles. They’re talking about mofongo, sancocho, arepas, enchiladas, etc., because these dishes aren’t easy to find nearby. If you don’t really know how to cook, it’s best to keep mum.

6. Spanish class? Easy A… so they assume.

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Just because you’re Latino doesn’t mean you’re an expert in Spanish. There are many different types of Spanish like Mexican Spanish, Peninsular Spanish from Spain, Rioplatense Spanish from Argentina, etc., so good luck landing a class that teaches the type of Spanish you grew up with. On top of that, you know most of us didn’t grow up learning grammar and conjugation rules.

7. And everyone will ask you to teach them… curse words.

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You can get asked that anywhere, but it’s so common at HBCUs. It’s almost the first thing people ask you once they discover you’re Latino.

8. You dive deep into the true history of Africa and how Afro-Latinos came to be.

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Because you’re at an HBCU, African-American History is often a prerequisite. You learn about the true contributions of African-Americans and blacks in America. These courses open your eyes and mind to information that wasn’t exactly taught in elementary. For example, you were probably taught that African-American history starts with slavery. At an HBCU, we learn about the contributions of Marcus Garvey, Christopher Columbus’ encounter with the natives, and more. In fact, many Latinos discover that they’re Afro-Latino.

9. And you get special opportunities to spread awareness about your culture.

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People are curious to learn about your background, and it’s pretty fun to educate people on your culture. There’s usually an organization catering to Latinos, if there isn’t one you can start one like I did. If you’re bilingual, you might be at an advantage for job and internship opportunities.

10. You connect with non-Latinos on many different levels, like discovering you are both totally obsessed with reggaeton.

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Reggaeton and reggae go hand in hand. Both genres borrow music elements from each other. So when the beat drops and both of you get up to dance, it’s an instant ‘wepa!’ moment. Tra, tra, tra.

11. And you realize how similar your cultures can be at times, like when you realize the band sometimes sounds like Perico Ripiao.

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You can hear the band practice from a distance and at times — it really sounds like a good Perico Ripiao. The fast sounds of the bands drums and cymbals make your ears perk up and wonder if your ‘pana’ from around the way is jamming from a distance. Perico Ripiao is a type of Merengue originally from Dominican Republic. Merengue is fused with elements of African music. You can hear the musical connection between the band and Perico Ripiao in the rhythm of the drums particularly. The fast sounds of the drums just makes you want to grab a partner and dance! Wepa!

12. Every time “Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo gets played, everyone turns to you to dance, and you’re like YAAAASSS!

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But then it’s like…

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C’mon pick something else. By the time it’s your Senior year, you’re tired of the song because it’s one of the only Spanish songs that gets played!

13. When you get together with your girlfriends you switch between saying ‘mija’ or ‘chiiiiile.’

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And it almost always happens when you are bochichando.

READ: @blaxicansofla Gets an Intimate Portrayal of What It’s Like Growing Up Black & Mexican

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