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, 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

Shining Some Light Into the Darkness: Mental Illness & Healthcare

Regardless of what many people may think, mental health is just as significant as physical health.  Especially within communities of color there is a stigma associated with mental illness and asking for help. I grew up in a household where depression and suicide was deemed issues that only affected privileged and non-religious people. In fact when I revealed to my family that I wanted to see a therapist at age 16 because of a recent suicide attempt, rather than getting any guidance, I was  reprimanded for not having faith in God and told to pray for forgiveness.

This is actually just one reason why I have yet to be officially diagnosed with depression, however, I have been for anxiety back in middle school by the school counselor who recommended that I go see a mental health professional after she witnessed me having a panic attack by my locker one morning. For some context I should note that by age 10 I had already attempted suicide three times. At the time I was struggling with self loathing, part of which had to do with my negative body image at the time, but it was also linked to my family’s homelessness. I don’t usually talk about this mostly because (until quite recently) I believed that this would reflect badly on my family. I became an overachiever, and a perfectionist that would break down at the mere idea of failing because in my mind I had to prove that I deserved love and to live. Failure meant that my existence was a mistake and I was a burden.

This was also when I was introduced to the alternative metal band, Linkin Park.  Having songs like By Myself, Don’t Stay and Numb made me feel like someone understood – something that I desperately wanted at the time. Lyrics like “I can’t hold on to what I want when I’m stretched so thin /It’s all too much to take in / I can’t hold on to end things watching everything spin / With thoughts of failure sinking in,” gave a voice to everything I was feeling that I couldn’t find a way to share with anyone. (To say I was obsessed with the band would be putting it mildly, their music and genre lead to my current taste in music which I will talk about in a future post.)  It may sound cliché but the emotion behind those songs just helped me kept pushing even at my lowest points because it proved that my feelings were valid and that I wasn’t alone.

Through cognitive  behavior modification, I did manage to work through my anxiety, during which time I actually moved on to listening to other bands, only going back to Linkin Park whenever I really needed them.  After all, anxiety and depression doesn’t  just disappear and there are times when your mind will take you right back to the same dark places you once left as if no progress was ever made. Fast forward to July 20, 2017. I was eating lunch with some co-workers when the news broke that the lead singer and songwriter of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington had committed suicide. We were devastated. Here was a man that opened himself up in order to help others not lose themselves in the dark spaces of their minds, who ended up lost himself.

That day at the office was the first time that I had the urge to cry at a celebrity death which is why I was happy that I had like-minded people around me that day to talk through the news. In our discussion the topic of mental health-care came up. Sure, talking things out with family and friends is helpful, yet there are times when you just need that extra professional help, which was something I always believed myself to be priced out off due to my low income, but, as I learned that July afternoon, it turns out I was mistaken. So I sat down with my friend and co-worker, Marjorie,  who actually worked in health insurance for two years, in order to learn more about what is covered for those of us that may not have the means to pay for services out of pocket. I hope that this information helps anyone that has been looking for resources to get the treatment and care they need.

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The Difference Between Surrender and Acceptance

One of the biggest pushes against body positive movement is this idea that those involved with it are promoting/glorify obesity. For some screwed up reason “making an effort” equals thin while being larger is equated to “letting yourself go” or simply “giving up.” Those of us in this body positive/love community, know this is not the case but for those on the outside looking in, this is their only way to understand what is going on.

At the third annual Golden Confidence Pool Party last month.

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Real #SquadGoals

I’ve never been good at making friends. For one thing I come from a conservative religious background that can sometimes make it hard for people to relate to me very much, bu more importantly I suffer from social anxiety. In my mind I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be my friend. After all, who would want to be friends with someone who doesn’t go out on Friday nights? Someone who struggles with slang and preferred research in the library over shopping?

Growing up, I  made the effort  to be the friend people would want even though the people I befriended didn’t provide me with the friendships I deserved as most of them would take advantage of my generosity for their personal gain. I had conceded to the idea that I just should take what I was given if I ever wanted to have any friends. Looking back it honestly was a subtle form of self-harm (which is not surprising to me given my deliberate self -injury behavior as a teen) that stopped once I met my best friend Jaden* during freshmen year of high school, who really got me out of my shell by encouraging me to  just be myself to the point that started to open up more.

2013 End it Now March Against Abuse and Domestic Violence with 4RWI

Now as an adult friendships are a bit more complicated with the added responsibilities of family and making a living, yet I have found that these mature relationships, especially with women, are more significant as it isn’t about being a part of an “in-crowd” or anything like that, instead it is about  building life-long relationships with purpose. From gaining real world mentoring from the women of 4 Real Women International, INC (4RWI) while working to empower women both in the US and abroad to meeting and collaborating with influencers that I had long admired from my computer, I pretty much a member of quite a few “squads”.  Granted adulting results in people entering different life stages and/or reaching significant milestones at different times that could lead to envy and/or competition, nevertheless, when you meet the right people that is never an issue.
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Messages From (26-year-old) Me to (16-year-old) Me

16 year old post pic (1)

This year my beloved baby cousin turned sixteen. It is just unbelievable to think that just ten years ago this young woman carried my crown down the aisle at my sweet sixteen. Ever since she was born I made a point to be a good role model for her though I know I needed guidance myself half the time. Earlier this month as I celebrated my twenty-sixth birthday,  she asked me if  I believed my 16  year old self would she be proud of who and where I am today. That random question got me thinking and to be honest, I didn’t have an answer which obviously frustrated my cousin to no end. Yet now as I sit here I thinking about it again, I am pretty sure that my sixteen-year old self would be glad, yet at the same time surprisingly furious at some things. So while I know that it isn’t actually possible for me to go back and speak to my younger self, I decided to make a list of 16 things I would say to her if I did get the chance. I am hoping that these messages also inspires my cousin and other young ladies that are just reaching this milestone.

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