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