'I fully embrace myself as an Afro-Latina, and TFA played a huge role'
What was your childhood experience like?
I’m from the Dominican Republic. My parents left their professional jobs (mom was an emergency room nurse, father was a private school educator), beautiful home, and family to move to the US so that their kids could have a better education. I was 4 and my brother 2 when we arrived in the Bronx, New York. Six months later, we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where my parents took their first real American jobs as housekeepers at a hotel and where I started my K-12 education.
What were your most vivid memories of being Latina at school?
I attended a lot of different schools, all of which had dramatically different demographics – but I was always the minority, as a Latina. Growing up, my chocolate skin and thick hair allowed me to look like my Black peers even though I was not culturally African American; my perfect, “accentless” English allowed me to sound like my white peers even though I wasn’t white; and though I spoke Spanish, danced Hispanic music, ate Hispanic food, I was too dark for most people to embrace the fact that I was Latina.
As a Dominican in Cincinnati, Ohio, I did the Soulja Boy at school homecoming dances, danced bachata at my friends’ quinceañeras and sung N’sync songs as I washed the dishes and watched MTV. All through school, I navigated these groups fluidly yet never felt like a full member of any of them. Though they each embraced an important component of who I was, none of them fully welcomed the complexity of my cultural identity.
What is a misperception about being Hispanic/Latinx, and what advice do you have for those who are unconfident about their Hispanic/Latinx cultural roots?
In Institute, I became friends with a guy named Gabe, who also identified as Latino. I remember learning that Gabe couldn’t speak Spanish. Growing up in a home where we had to speak Spanish, I was baffled about his inability to engage with me in Spanish. I would give him such a hard time and often ask, “Gabe, how can you be Latino and not speak Spanish?!” Then, I learned that he was El Salvadorian and Guyanese, and having been raised in both cultures, he too was navigating his cultural identity. Language was part of that journey, and English was a language that allowed him to be culturally connected to both sides of his family.
After teaching for five years, I can embrace the fact that though I was born in Dominican Republic and raised in a Dominican home, my Spanish is now seasoned with Honduran, Nicaraguan and Mexican slang, a Puerto Rican accent, and vocabulary that is completely foreign to my Dominican family because of what I’m exposed to in my school and community. My family pokes fun of me for that, but that doesn’t make me any less Latina.
The misconception is that we are not Hispanic/Latinx “enough” if we don’t speak Spanish, prefer Hispanic/Latinx cuisine, listen to a certain type of music, or dance a certain type of way. For those of you struggling with your roots, know that you are Latino because of who you are and where you are from! Having similar roots doesn’t mean we have to have similar fruits.
The way you choose to manifest your roots is up to you.
As told to Cece Zhou.