I always feel a strange twinge at the start Hispanic Heritage Month. Partially because it should be called Latino (or Latinx) Heritage Month to be more inclusive. Mostly because I don’t always feel like I fit in.
I’m Latina, but you wouldn’t immediately get there. I don’t speak Spanish fluently. I didn’t call my Cuban grandparents Abuelo and Abuela. They were Papa and Nana. I call my only uncle “Uncle Alan”, not tio. My cousins are cousins not primos. I grew up eating rice and black beans as a side pretty much daily, but had no idea of its cultural influence.
It could be because only my father is Latino, but growing up we were a black family with the Cuban part being a fun fact. I spent most of my childhood rarely even mentioning it. The conversations that followed when I did say it were not worth the headache.
As an adult, I am willing to deal with it and share my identity with anyone who’s willing to listen. I do have some thoughts about the misconceptions out there about what makes people Latinx though.
You don’t need to speak Spanish
Whenever I say “solamente un poquito” ( translation: just a little bit or only a little) in response to the question of whether or not I speak Spanish I see the the instant disappointment. I could have learned to speak Spanish fluently in theory, but the fact is when one parent does not speak the language it makes it very difficult to learn properly. It could have been done, but it’s not a phenomenon that it wasn’t. There are plenty of people with two Spanish speaking parents who don’t speak a lick of it. So…
There is no denying that I wish I learned Spanish growing up. There is a strong tie to my cultural identity that I feel as though I’m missing. That being said, my Latina-ness is not diluted just because I don’t speak Spanish. I am still Latina.
You can’t look Latina
Thanks to certain Latina representation in the media, there is this notion that Latinas look a certain way. You’ll often hear people say someone “looks Latina”. Latinas come in every color, hair texture, and body shape under the sun. So, please miss me with the broad generalizations.
The fact that I am black tends to give people pause. I had someone years ago flat out say that I was lying because “all Cubans are white”. More recently, someone said that my sister, who is lighter me, looks more Cuban…
Cutting through the sheer ignorance of it all, I have to restate one very important fact. My dad, the man who is my exact complexion, is the Cuban one. So to say I don’t look Cuban is to say that he doesn’t. Seeing as both of his parents were born and raised in Cuba, I’d say he begs to differ. Right?
Being Latina does not cancel out being black (or vice versa)
I’ll start by saying that I have been referring to myself as Afro-Latina since the early aughts. So, most of my life. When I discovered the term, it was like finding a piece of the puzzle that was my identity. I remember excitedly telling my dad, “Do you know what we are? We’re Afro-Latino!”
This is when people were still saying “I’m not black, I’m [insert nationality here]”. These same people would literally take severe offense at the even the suggestion of them being black. Now sis…
Colorism is so embedded in Latino culture that it shouldn’t shock me. While we’ve come lightyears and being Afro-Latina is now worn as a badge of honor, I know there are still people who aren’t there yet.
If you are Afro-Latina embracing your blackness is so important. It is just such a fundamental piece of who we are. By trying to disregard it, we would be canceling out ourselves. You can’t have one without the other. They’re tied to one another in a beautiful way.
We are all Latina enough
For the longest time, I felt this insecurity when it came to discussing the fact that I am Latina. It gave me a huge sense of pride and yet was my biggest cause of embarrassment. I felt like I wasn’t Latina enough.
Whether you speak fluent Spanish or solamente un poquito. Whether you are cooking ropa vieja or a vegan dish. Whether you are blasting meregue or bumping Lizzo. Whether your skin is alabaster or a rich coffee tone. We are all Latina enough. Say it with me, we are all Latina enough.