From as early as I can remember, I recall my Puerto Rican parents and grandparents drilling into me that we were a mixture of African, European and Taíno. That knowledge and the rich culture associated with that particular Afro-Caribbean genetic blend has shaped who I am, but for so long to me that meant only that I was Boricua. It wasn’t until I had my own children with my bi-racial husband, did I truly understand the importance of my Afro-Latinx identity, and the impact of racism and colorism in Latinx communities.
When I gave birth to two beautiful brown babies, I knew that I had a big job ahead of me, especially since my oldest is a boy. Knowing that I would be raising a Black boy in America, prompted me to not only look inward and draw from my own experiences, but also to recognize that I’m going to have to look far beyond that in order to raise multi-racial, Afro-Latinx children that are empowered and secure in their own identities.
I have to admit, that no matter how proud of my heritage I am, I still don’t fully understand what I’m allowed to claim and what is off-limits to me. That’s mostly because I know that as a mixed Afro-Latina that is 100-percent Puerto Rican with a strong connection to my cultural heritage, I don’t have the same lived experience as a Black woman in America. The idea of claiming that and in any way taking ownership of something that is not mine, pains me. So, I continue to embrace my African roots and identify as Afro-Latinx, but I don’t call myself Black despite my honey-hued complexion. The waters are just too murky. But, my kids might. My husband—their father—is genetically 50-percent European and 50-percent African, and combined with my 30-percent African DNA, our kids present as Black. They are darker than us and they’ve noticed.
So my task, is to create a solid foundation for them so that they not only embrace their Blackness, but that they see the value in it. For me, that has meant digging deep into my own Afro-Latinx heritage and learning about the parts of my culture that came from Africa, as well as those that came from my indigenous and European ancestors. Now, as a 35-year-old mother, I refuse to let one of the three be more prominent than the others. I’ve educated myself about African migrations to my family’s country of origin, learned about the slave trade and spent time discovering the many aspects of our culture including our food, music and dance styles, that have been influenced by our African ancestors.
The thing is, doing so requires being proactive. For so many generations Black influence in Latinx culture has been minimized and tamped down. In many cases, those with strong African roots were even shamed or made to feel less than. As someone of Puerto Rican descent, I recognize that I actually have deeper connections to my African roots than many other individuals from Latinx countries, but still like most people whose ancestors arrived in this part of the world via the slave trade, so much truth has been lost. So we have to seek and search and grasp onto what we can so that we can create those all-important connections and pass them along to our children.
I’ve leaned into my Afro-Latinx identity, so that one day they can too. So that they can grow up knowing the beauty and magic that their African ancestors contributed to their DNA, and knowing with confidence that they are uniquely who they are because of it. And because of that, I’ve become empowered in my own Afro-Latinx identity—secure knowing that my African roots run deep and that that’s one more thing that connects me not only to my ancestors, but now to my children as well.