I Am Black and Latina Enough!

I navigate my life by doing two things consistently – explaining and apologizing. Its as frustrating and annoying as you can imagine, yet it becomes necessary when you navigate through life being constantly asked which one of your parents are white (the answer is neither) and how someone of my complexion is of Latino descent. In the United States skin color is your only identity so the moment that I enter a room the confusion starts.  Latinos come in various shades as we are the most racially diverse people in the world. As I mentioned in a previous post, it just goes back to history – 95% of the slave trade took place in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Wearing an authentic Panamanian Kuna mola headband my mother bought for me at a Latino Heritage event in Washington DC last month.

Panama, my parents’ native land, even has two significant waves of African/Black migration* that helped shape the culture as we know it today. The first is known as the “Afro-colonial” wave in which slaves came with conquistador, Vasco Núñez de Balboa as he settled this territory for the Spanish crown during the 16th century. The second is the “Afro-Antillean” wave which took place around the time that Panama gained its independence and West Indian immigrants from neighboring countries like Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica, came over to build the Panama Canal. On my mother’s side alone we have family members that are Black (primarily of Jamaican descent), white/European, Asian and Indigenous. I think that is actually part of the reason why people have issues with Latinos, because unlike most ethnic groups we are just so diverse that we can’t be categorized easily. Not that we should be doing this but it is a reality, at least in the US. Continue reading

Black History Month and My Afro-Latina Identity

For the entire month of February I have grappled with writing this post yet the subject is something that is very important to me and what better way to the end Black History Month than by complicating its annual observance.  If you take a look at my “about” page or the bios provided on most of my social media channels for the blog, you will notice that I identify as an Afro-Latina. In my experience the term “Afro-Latino” is one that either stumps or angers a couple of people; it usually depends on where you are and who you are talking to. It stumps some people because they are not aware that “Latino” is not a racial category, but an ethnicity, and it angers others because of the misconception that Latinos cannot be Black.

This misunderstanding is one also shared by Latinos as we generally reference ourselves through our national ties. I grew up understanding that I was the daughter of Panamanian immigrants. Though I was born here, I wasn’t considered “American” by many of my peers as evident from the ever present: “Where are you FROM?” America sees things plainly black and white and anything that shatters that mentality often brings negative responses. As a result, I was taught to hate my hair, skin color and the fact that my first words were in another language other than English. (I blame media and the American education system, but that’s a topic for another post.)


Me at 12 years old wearing the Panamanian pollera.

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