I Am Latina. I Am Black. I Am Me.
I was born and raised in the South Bronx to immigrant Honduran-Garifuna parents whose objective for coming to America was to search for a better life for themselves and their children. Like many Latin American and third world countries public and complimentary education is scarce and is generally provided to children until the completion of elementary school. Post-elementary education is a luxury that many can’t afford therefore oftentimes children stay home and help support their families by providing childcare, doing housework, cooking, working in factories or on farms and selling food.
The Garifunas, also known as the Black Caribs are descendants of the Caribbean, Arawak and West African people who lived on the island of St. Vincent. Today the Garifuna people live primarily in Central America and along the Caribbean Coast in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras as well as in the United States.
As a young person growing up around other Latinos like me I never felt I needed to explain who I was. It was only when I left my home and church community that I felt different. I remember how I used to struggle when I completed the census report for my parents and me or even just applications that would ask for our race and/or ethnicities. I really never felt that I fit in their categories until recently when the census and other agencies began adding the category for Black Latino/a.
On many occasions people assume I’m African American and that’s fine too. But when I speak Spanish in public the reaction is usually one of shock! People say things like “you don’t look Latina” or tell me that I don’t have an accent when I speak English (I suppose Rosie Perez is what they expect). At times, if I’m up to it I give them a lesson on cultural diversity.
In Latin America you see a range of hues and looks even beyond the typical black and white Latinos. And at this point in my life I have come to terms with embracing who I am and I know that I don’t have to be defined by society’s terms as to what is Latina or black, I am both and some… I am ME and I am proud. So I say, Salud to Latin American Heritage Month!