i am afro-latina
In 2007, I learned about Albany University's Study Abroad program in the Dominican Republic. Instantly, something sparked and I knew I had to apply. I completed the application as soon as I possibly could and was accepted. As a Dominican-American, I had traveled to the country numerous times, mainly for vacation purposes. When I turned 16, I asked my Mom to gift me a flight so that I could visit my older siblings who I had not formally met but had been in contact with through phone calls and letters. Although I was culture-shocked at first, I still felt at home.
Many of my friends made fun of me when I told them that I planned on studying abroad in DR. They immediately said that it didn't count as an educational trip but more of a vacation. They were partially right. However, I was excited to be in the country for two whole months as a "tourist" and a "local". It was a wonderful experience because I got to see the country through a different lens. I studied in the country's capital, Santo Domingo, at what is locally known as La Pucamaima or Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra. While studying in this school and thanks to two professors who identified as Black, I learned about my African roots. It wasn't until then, that I began to learn about how the slaves were brought to the island, and for that reason, many Dominicans are dark-skinned with kinky-curly hair, just like mine. For some reason, the lessons I learned about slavery back home didn't connect until then. I learned that my skin color was connected with the enslaved people from Africa and not the Taino Indios that inhabited the land as we are taught by our Dominican culture. I feel many Dominicans choose to believe it out of ignorance or just lack of education. While in those classes, a seed was planted and my life made a little more sense, finally.
As a kid, I disliked the color of my skin because I was the darkest one in my maternal family. My mother and all of my aunts had light skin, and so, I felt like I didn't belong. Kids from the neighborhood would call me names, including Black Panther, which was a constant reminder of how much I hated my skin color. It wasn't until one of my aunts told me she wished she'd been born with my skin color because it was beautiful, while hers lacked color and personality. That moment was a turning point for me as I finally started to see myself as beautiful because apparently being light-skinned wasn't that exciting after all.
Years later, I felt like I had to begin identifying as an Afro-Latina because that's where my roots lie. My skin and my hair are undeniable proof that my ancestors were beautiful, black people that were forced on a land that was not theirs. My ancestors had no choice but to adapt and make a life out of their new circumstances. Here I am, hundreds of years later, a descendant of them. I identify as Afro-Latina to honor them. To acknowledge that I belong to them. That their suffering and their history can not be ignored or erased. I am living proof of it.
In conclusion, studying abroad in the Dominican Republic was important and necessary for my evolution as a black woman. It was a validation and a lesson I would have never learned from my own family. Now that I am stepping into my power, I hope to pay it forward by imparting those same lessons on my children and anyone that is willing to listen.