Why is identifying as a Black Latino/Afro Latino important to you? Here and in your home country.
I identify as an Afro Latina as a way to affirm that history that I think is often forgotten for us. I think the fact that I came to the US at 4 years old, even though I grew up in a highly Dominican community in Lawrence, I was still the darkest one of my friends. All my friends were Dominican but I didn’t realize until 5 or 6 years ago that, most are from one specific area in Santo Domingo: Bani. Now using the term Afro Latina is an intention to not only remind myself that I have this long history attached to my identity but also for others to recognize that piece of it when they see me, when they see a darker skin tone. For me, it is a way of saying. This is all I am.
Did you know you were Black?
Good question. I think, the conversations I had with my friends in high school were totally Anti-Black. All of them! I remember a conversation that I had with a Caribbean classmate, I think he was from Jamaica and he looked at me and said, ‘You are Black’ and I remember saying, ‘No, I’m Dominican.’ That conversation has stayed with me. I was 14 at the time. He did it as a way of provocation. He knew it would get me angry so I will never forget that classmate. I ask myself now why that term “Black” felt like such an accusation and I have gathered that at that age it hadn’t yet occurred to me that I too, could be Black.
What has been the impact both positive and negative of people not seeing you as a Black Latino/Afro Latina?
I will start with the positive. First of all, an experience like this is positive. I don’t think we were having these intimate conversations about identity a few years ago. I remember when I went natural for the first time, it’s now 7 years. I was on YouTube, reading about coconut oil. Now we have Ms. Rizzo’s Salon in Santo Domingo and New York, representing not only Afro Latinidad but the new wave of Dominican women really saying, that natural is our hair and that is really important. I think that piece has been great to see. The use of the term in media has been another positive change. Often times I get annoyed because it seems very trendy. I think there is now at least an opportunity to go deeper. So, great, at least now we have this door open and I hope we continue to open this door wider to educate people. I have felt that this is a positive shift.
In terms of negative, in the beginning when I was really trying to self- identify as a woman, as a Black presenting woman, as a Latina, as a Dominican, I think I was turned off initially by the personal conversations I had with friends. So, I mentioned growing up in Lawrence and having a pretty big Dominican social circle. When I brought some of these conversations I often felt my feelings around Blackness were diminished, or I got the “I didn’t know this was such a big deal to you” stares. That came from friends who I felt should have been more caring. That has been interesting. A little bit to your point, when you don’t have the skin color that is easily marketable to other people, or where they don’t have to guess “Is she Black, Is she Latina,What is she?” then I think it is much less of a burden and I realized that my lighter toned Dominican friends often didn’t carry this identity puzzle. That to me felt like a harsh realization. We are all Dominican but we are all not thinking about this in the same terms nor carry the same experiences.
How do you Amplify in a Latinx world that expects us to all look like J Lo and Marc Anthony?
I love encouraging younger women to think about their own stances around self-identity. Actually I have met young women, 15 and 16 years old who have already begun this inner work and seem to be way ahead of me in terms of accepting themselves and their identity which is so beautiful. On the other hand, I have met and had conversations that are very typical of that age range which is more about, who am I and how do I present myself to the world and just being obsessed with that. I think that has been one of the ways that I have been trying to be intentional in how I amplify. I work with YW Boston, I love everything about them and the work they are doing. They are always looking at racial equity in Boston particularly on girls of color, Black girls being the center focus of their mission. If I have an opportunity to share with a young woman some insight about how it feels to show up fully and if she gets to find out at a very young age, then she won’t have to go through some of the challenges that we have worked on together. Another way I have been able to amplify is actually having a little bit of these one on one conversations. I often find it very helpful. I have also recognized the family members, friends, and strangers alike that are just not going there, that will never get it, and I have moved on to the ones who are more ready to have a conversation about race, about Blackness, about What is Afro Latinidad, What is being an Afro Dominican, What is this history that we have never been taught. That has been fun. I have sent articles to friends who are curious in hopes that they may begin their own inner search. I think my writing in the past few years has always been rooted in equity. I work in community development and I emphasize we move towards equity at every corner of our work. This is the beauty of it. When you start to sit into your identity and you start to really understand who you are and those roots and what they bring, I think you then begin to unravel some of the bigger social solutions that often feel so big and out of this world but really are not. So I often find that talking about economic empowerment for our community is a way to amplify. The economic advancement of Black and Brown people has been a big part of the shift that I have been thinking about too. That is a major piece of how we can seek our liberation.
I would center it around the word ‘History’. I think were we are in this moment in the US, given the political landscape, I think it would pay us all a great favor if we took the time to explore history and open ourselves to understand our ancestry. I think as an Afro Latina, Afro Dominican, one of the things that I have found was when I took the time to read more about my country’s history. I made a trip to DR and made intentional effort to visit art and history museums, to check out artifacts and to literally read for day about a history that hadn’t ever been taught to me as an immigrant of the U.S. That is what led me here. That would be my challenge for Black History Month. I challenge you to take up a book, explore your country’s own history, explore your origin story and plan a visit if possible. Attuning yourself to what has led us all here in this moment in time is an act of revolution within itself.
Beya Jimenez is an urban planning professional and writer based in Boston, MA. She holds a Master’s in City Planning from Boston University. She was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in Lawrence, MA. Her writing is dedicated to issues surrounding social justice, housing, and intersectionality. She has documented her experiences abroad through her blog “Street Art + Food”. Her work has been featured in Boston Globe, Black Girl in Om, Travel Noire, Femme Travel, Grubstreet’s Tell-All and independently on Medium. She has also directed an independent short film “Here for us, Here to Stay” with Windy Media for The Conservation Law Foundation focused on climate action awareness.