A Pop of Culture

During the first couple of weeks of quarantine last year (in which time I was furloughed so I had A LOT of time on my hands) my mother and I spent most of our days working on different craft projects. The first week we baked and then for the next two all we did was sew. I made myself a denim shoulder bag out of an old pair of jeans, we fixed some dress and pant hems, we even made some new curtains for the living room out of fabric that had been in storage for years.

While in storage, my mother dug through some old boxes and also found a bunch of scraps of mola she had bought years ago on one of our trips to Panama  back when I was a kid. I think her intention was to create a vest or a small handbag but she never got around to it. More than 2 decades later, in which time she clearly forgot about it, she figured it was time to give it a fashionable purpose.

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I Am Black and Latina Enough!

I navigate my life by doing two things consistently — explaining and apologizing. It is as frustrating and annoying as you can imagine, yet it becomes necessary when you navigate 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, this is a direct result of the fact that 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 colonized the land 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 from Colombia and West Indian immigrants from neighboring countries like Trinidad, Barbados and Jamaica, came over to build the Panama Canal. As a result you have families like mine where, on my mother’s side alone, we have family members that are Black (as well as being of Jamaican descent), white/European, Asian and Indigenous. I think having racial and cultural mixes like this 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 at all, but it is a reality, at least in the USA. 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 that is sadly shared by Latinos as we generally reference ourselves through our national ties or those of our parents. I grew up understanding that I was the daughter of Panamanian immigrants. Though I was born and raised in the United States, 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 or 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 the media and the American education system, but that’s a topic for another time.)

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Me at 12 years old wearing the Panamanian pollera.

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