I was about 13 when I learned that my grandfather was was Cuban. That that is why our last name is what it is. And that his estrangement from my father, and this family, seeped into even a negation of who we are.
And I was 18 when my mother told me not to check “Latina” on my college application. “They’ll be looking for someone Hispanic & then you’ll show up.” This meant to me that a) I was Cuban but it didn’t matter what I thought about that, it only mattered how my institution rated/counted me. b) I can only claim it if it is visible.
Here I am at 21, with over two decades in conditioning on what “Hispanic/Latino/Chincano” is. Just now, in this year learning that Latino is moreso about the culture and Latin countries. That Hispanic has more to do with Spain/Portugal. And that Chicano is of/related to Mexico. Just recently being applauded by my peers for how well I spoke in Spanish class. I was always semi-conversational because it was spoken in my home. Just realizing watching, Buena Vista Social Club on Netflix that Cubans are just as dark as me, even darker. Explaining to my relatives why I dedicated my junior dance piece to Che Guevara & choreographed it to Commandante.
Yet I still feel like people will think Im inauthentic if I begin blogging in Spanish. That I am not allowed to use that language because my hair doesn’t flow down my back and my mother never cooked Cuban food in our home. Because I am more of a milk chocolate brown than a dulce de leche caramel all over.
But, what is identity? Thats something I learned to question while at college. Liberatingly enough, I learned that it is a device of the stringency of Westernization to try and isolate me racially based on my color. My brown-paper-bagness. My one-dropness. I learned that ethnicity is not something I am making up, its something I actually have. And who or what you are is entirely based on your experiences. Not what pumps through your veins. You get to be who you say you are.
Shame how Black women have been taught that their rival is the fair skinned Latina. I fear people in my Black community will make assumptions about me. That I’m trying to be better by claiming Afro-Latina instead of just Afro. That some how I am hoping people will see me as better, or lighter, or prettier, or more exotic or sexier. Or be cinched in the waist & calling men “Papi”.
When in fact, I just want to welcome a part of me back into my family.
I want to celebrate the grandfather, who’s birthday immediately follows mine, as a heritage since I cannot celebrate him as a person. I want to accept my Africana. My Latina. My Americana. That is something in my heart and that I want back into my life. Through research and experiences and embracing and discovering. I want to cook the foods I like, and discover the foods of my people. All my people. I want to teach my children my Spanish. That I learned in my American school, and thats okay. I want to read up on how to reconcile this. I want to read more about it.
I will not be perfectly what anyone thinks I should be ever. But, my identity isn’t for them. It’s for me.
Yo soy afracubmericana.