What makes you think you’re black? Why do you want to be black anyway?
For most of my life I found myself seeking validation outside of myself. I wanted nothing more than to discover my own identity within other people. I sought to get down with the black girls and get down with my Latinas ; but what I was faced with was the backs of my people and echoing sounds of shutting doors and labels being slurred in my direction. I was told I couldn’t be black because my hair was too good and my skin was too light. I wasn’t “Latina enough” because I didn’t speak with the right accent and I much rather fill my playlist with Tribe Called Quest tracks rather than hum along to the seductive sounds of Aventura. Don’t get me wrong, Soy Dominicana, and once that Bachata plays, my soul dances. And I sure as hell knew I wasn’t white; I wasn’t even trying to play that.
I believe that at some point, we are asked, “What are you? Where are you from?” some more frequently than others. Let me break it down for you; I am Hispanic, I am a black woman, I am South Side Providence, I am a best friend, a sister, a sharp thinker, revolutionary idealizer, questioner, educator, cultural liberator. I am Afro-Dominican, Soy Afro-Dominicana. Now, some of my Dominicans will probably read this and question my “Hispanic-ness”, which is fine by me, because I no longer seek validation from anyone or anything other than myself. First, for my Dominicans, Para Mi Dominicanos, to say that we are just Dominican or claim that we are ‘Indio’ is to deny the experience of our ancestors. Let’s also accept that fact that our native people, ‘Indios’, were wiped out through genocidal actions and imperialism, so that leaves us with centuries of slavery and the mixing of those African ethnicities and Spaniard colonist. We’re not ‘Indio’ either. We cannot compromise our African ancestry, to do that is to compromise our identity. I, myself, struggled with the acceptance of my own blackness, mainly because of the negative connotation attached with the image of Africa as a people and a nation. But when I came to the realization with the help of my own curiosity and the close observation of the variation of pigmentation in my family, that yes, I was black, I never felt a stronger connection to my roots and to the history of my people. I found myself in the midst of this large African diaspora that was a lot bigger than just my nationality, it was much bigger than my question of why my sister was darker than me and why my mother would force me to straighten my hair. In a broader sense, I began to decolonize my perception of myself, but also my view of the world and what it meant to be a Dominican.
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t have a Dominican friend?
You go to their family parties (we always find a reason to party), you’ve collected souvenirs from a friend’s cousin’s quinceñera, played dominoes over a few coronas with their loud uncles and when you go over their houses you hope to God their mother cooked some rice, beans and who can forget the pastelitos. It’s inevitable; you will always leave smelling like food. They probably have you speaking Spanglish, saying things such as “Dique” and “Pero like.” But, what more is there? Growing up I’ve gone to too many baby showers, one too many salon visits, had my first drink of rum at the age of ten (we’re also said to be big drinkers), danced Merengue with my mop while I was doing my Saturday cleaning. But when I am asked, what it is to be Dominican? I have to think, well, what does it mean?
But, you can never eat too many pastelitos, and lord knows how much I love rice.
Afro-Dominicans have failed to flaunt and accept their blackness. The Dominican Republic as a country, for the most part, has denied their blackness in order to advance economically and politically. Adapting a notion of racial and cultural superiority of white supremacist, we inevitably further marginalize those in our own bloodline with our “backwardness”. To be just Dominican is unrealistic, by denying our African roots; we are internalizing racism, self-hate, dirtying our blackness. To be Afro-Dominican is to be black, it is to be African.
So, when you’re sick and your Abuelita makes you a concoction of herbs for a tea, know that her Haitian Tia taught her that. When your Tio plays the Tambora at family functions or church, know that his African great-great Abuelo taught him that. Your tan skin, plush lips, wide thighs, curved hips, quick tongue and kinky tips are physical traits passed down to you from your ancestors. Embrace your blackness, embrace other’s blackness and understand that what we are a part of is much bigger than you and I. We derive from resilience.
In the words of famous Dominican author and my personal favorite, Junot Diaz, “But no matter what the truth, remember: Dominicans are Caribbean and therefore have an extraordinary tolerance for extreme phenomena.” –The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Woa (highly recommended read).
And for those who try to define me, let this be known, I am as African as you are, as the rest of us. Soy Afro-Dominicana and you can’t tell me nothing *Kanye Voice*
*peace & much love to ya,