I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos throughout quarantine. ASMR soft chats. Snipets of Gabriel Iglesias’s stand-up. And at least once a day, I watch this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show featuring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. I get especially excited to watch Jlo’s performance. My chest puffs up with a sense of pride when she shows off the Puerto Rican flag to the audience, reminding viewers that Puerto Ricans are Americans too.
I’m a proud Puerto Rican. I have to admit that this pride that I feel is relatively new thing, starting in my late 20s/early 30s. In high school and my early college years, I wished that I was White for its “beauty standards,” as well as for the convenience of it. As I’ve gotten older, I learned to love my bigger nose and rounder hips not just as attractive features but as things that connect me to my identity. Growing up, I never knew of Afrolatina roles models to look up to (#RepresentationMatters) and thought that White beauty was the standard to aspire to. I had to essentially look like Barbie and I hated the fact that I wasn’t skinny and my dark eyes surrounded by my darker eye circles.
I tried my hardest to emulate Whiteness while I still never felt “Black” enough, nor ‘Latina” enough. Both races had their own expectations to live up to and I was never going to play for either side. I thought Black culture limited to hip-hop culture, something that I always found mildly offensive and misgonistic. I also thought Latino culture was primarily wrapped around the Spanish language, something that I could barely understand and never fully get. I also never knew the nationality of my biological father. While I have Black features and celebrated my adoptive father’s culture (his family is Jamaican), I floated around without a true and genuine racial identity for years.
I have to admit that I do feel like a terrible Afrolatina sometimes. I learned late in my life that Puerto Ricans come in various shades (soy una idiota). Even though I minored in Spanish in college, my Spanish these days is terrible. I started practicing more since the start of the new year (of course, I’m nowhere that I want to be in fluency but I’m getting there). Hair is a big discussion when you’re a person of color. I straighten my hair most of the time. While I know this is damaging, having straight hair is easy. I never could master my natural curly hair and now, I don’t like to be bothered with it (I’m impatient to test out products for my hair). I don’t know cultural things like music, important figures, historical events. All that aside, I question myself if I just feel connected to the culture, connected in a small bit, am I part of the culture? Or am I just admirer from afar?
I think about the children I hope to have one day and how I would raise them to celebrate that those sides of them- how would I be a positive role model of Afrolatino culture? I’d like to be fluent in Spanish so I can passed down the lanuagage to my children when they’re young. While I love my straight hair, I think about wearing it this way and natural to show my future babies that it’s beautiful to do both. The one cultural identity I hold dearest is my American one. The definition of who is an American is both broadening and deepening every day. My version certainly is… and this loyal and patriotic writer is an Afrolatina American.
How do you identify, dear reader, and how do you celebrate that identity?