I have always been proud of my heritage. My parents are Puerto Rican, their parents were Puerto Rican, and their parents before them. No one talked about our race.
We identified as Spanish, Latino, or Hispanic, but never black or white, or anything in between. My parents grew up in between New York and Puerto Rico, but they did not speak Spanish at home – they could but they chose not to. When I was incredibly young, I was able to communicate in Spanish because my grandmother babysat me, but I soon lost my skills.
During middle school, my Puerto Rican classmate asked why I did not speak Spanish, and I said that my parents were raised in New York and we didn’t speak it at home. His response was: “Oh, so you’re one of those Newyo-Ricans!” It was clear to me then: I was a different type of Puerto Rican.
As time passed, I became increasingly aware of my skin tone, my hair, and my “lack” of Puerto Rican culture. My older cousins could speak Spanish, were lighter and had long, wavy, dark hair. I felt like an outsider.
In college, I was attracted to Latin history, so I took various courses that expanded on Latin and South American history: I was hooked.
The Mayans and Incans captivated me in a way that Louis XIV of France or ancient Greece did not. And when we got to the Taíno people of Puerto Rico, I felt like I had discovered a long-lost part of myself.
Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony inhabited by Taíno people, which participated in slavery. Therefore, Puerto Ricans are a mix of European Spanish, the indigenous Taíno people, and enslaved African laborers. During my studies, I unearthed the traditional bomba dance, the reasons why the plátano was a staple in our kitchens, why many of us are Catholic, and so much more. I finally saw pictures of people, Puerto Rican people, who looked like me and had hair like mine. I also discovered that I was not alone on my cultural discovery and that there were others who felt inadequate in their own skin.
Today there is an entire movement of people embracing their Afro-Latinidad. Our hair, skin color, and African roots are now being celebrated.
Latino people are finally talking about colorism and accepting the fact that we can be Latino and Black simultaneously. It warms my heart to see imagery with actors and actresses, comedians and influencers, all honoring both their Latino and African roots! As a mother of a little girl who embodies Afro-Latinidad, I am excited and proud of how far the world has come. We still have a long way to go, but this new exposure makes me optimistic for the future. My daughter will not have to feel like an outsider; she will be able to learn about her culture and her history, have a healthy self-image, and be exposed to a camaraderie born of a unique mixture of peoples.