Why is identifying as a Black Latino/Afro Latino important to you? Here and in your home country.
That is a heavy question and is important to ask especially in this type of climate, I learned the importance of this after my son was killed.
I came to this country when I was 10 years old and I remember coming through NY. I could speak English; I could read and speak Spanish but could not read English. When I attended school as a 10-year-old, there was a sense of not belonging because I found myself within two cultures or two races, and still not sure how to identify. My African American friends would tell me, ‘go back on the banana boat that I came from’ and to learn how to speak English. My Spanish friends would call me mi cantito de pan quemado. To them, this was a term of endearment that translates to ‘my little piece of burnt toast.’ I sounded like them but did not look like them. I looked like my AA friends but I did not sound like them. Then there was all this waring between these two cultures. I didn’t know where I belonged, and I realized I had to tap into myself. I did have something to offer. I helped my AA friends pass Spanish class by tutoring them and then my Spanish speaking friends pass English by tutoring them. And so, I realized I needed to be proud of what I had to offer. I may not sound like my AA friends, and that did not make me less than. I may not look like my Latino/white Latino friends, and that did not make me less than them either.
I had to really go back to the foundation and what I was taught in my culture, to believe in myself and be proud of who I am. Then I was able to stand in my power. Yes, I am an Immigrant and I am an American. I’m from Central America. I come from La Ceiba, Honduras in Central America. I’ve gone through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion trainings with VISIONS, Inc. Some of the activities required breaking into affinity groups and I always found myself gravitating to the Latino group. Those who identified as AA would call me out asking what I am doing? Saying I belonged in their group.
I’d ask myself, where do I belong? I connected more with the culture and beliefs of my Latino friends and I’ve gotten in trouble many times being in spaces with AA when I would say, I am not African American. People would say, what do you mean you’re not Black? I would then clarify, I didn’t say I am not Black, I said that I am not AA, I’m a Black Latina. People did not understand and sometimes still don’t understand even now. They would say, what do you mean? How can you be Black and Latina? I would say, yeah, I’m Black and I speak Spanish. I think, especially today, and even being in different spaces a lot of Latinos are under the assumption that I do not work with Spanish speaking families, that I only work with African Americans, which simply isn’t true. With all that I’ve experienced and still am experiencing I’m genuinely trying to lead with, I am a Black, Latina, Immigrant. Bringing that forth to show that I am contributing something to this United States of America. I am a part of the fabric of this country, the betterment of this country, don’t dismiss us. We do have something to offer.
What has been the impact both positive and negative of people not seeing you as a Black Latino/Afro Latina?
Yeah this is a hard question. A negative impact has been when I have been in spaces with African Americans and hear, ‘these immigrants are coming to take our jobs away.’ Implying African Americans don’t have jobs because Immigrants are “stealing their jobs.” There was a sense of shame and fear, and so many times growing up I would choose not to say anything. There was no way I was going to tell them I am one of “those people” they are talking about. My thought process was, Oh my God, what are they going to do to me when they find out that I am an Immigrant. I realized that by not saying anything I have allowed my own internalized oppression to contribute to the ongoing oppression of my people. All my people. Contributing to what the current president is doing, that ongoing hatred that we have for ourselves and one another. That is the negative side of it.
I became a United States citizen after my son was murdered. I realized, oh crap! I don’t have a voice in this country unless I am registered to vote. The positive side of it all is that with my perspective and experience I can use my voice to say, no, when we criticize other cultures then remind people that we would be no different than the current president and would be no different than the white people who have hatred towards us. The truth is they don’t care if you are Caribbean or, Latino etc. you are what they see, a nonwhite person. Culturally we have been set up to demonize each other. I choose not to stay quiet I choose to be mindful and say, no, we don’t do that to each other. We are to treat each other with Dignity and respect. Treat each other as the Human beings that we are. My mom came to this country to better herself and to make sure that we had the opportunities she did not have growing up. I did not know I was poor until I came to this country. What we valued back home and what is valued here in America are different. As an Immigrant I may be poor financially and physically compared to what the standard is in America yet I am filled with richness because I have community that cares about me and that sees me and upholds me and sustains me and brings me along to be the human that I am called to be according to God’s will.
How do you Amplify in a Latinx world that expects us to all look like J Lo and Marc Anthony?
I am still learning where I fit in the world. I don’t think I have intentionally been in that space to raise my voice. I still don’t see a platform for us. Maybe it is there and I haven’t found it. I think your invitation to interview me is providing that space. I don’t know if I should say this, but I believe I’ve looked to the “J Lo’s” because that is what is reported and known to the world via different outlets. No one looks like me, there is no one that I can look to and say this person is a “Black Latina and from Honduras” like me. I think there is still that culture in America where our media/news platforms are for people who are mainly white. So, I think this is that opportunity. I have been getting out of my comfort zone of being the CEO in the background; giving myself permission to be center stage and amplify this group of Latinx.
Again, we come in all shades and cultural backgrounds and we are not all from the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico or Spain which holds a dominant population in Boston. I have to figure out, how do we provide our own platform? Part of the struggle is how do I navigate it? How do I show up? What will “they” tell me I have to be? And to remember it’s not about who sees me and what they think of me. This is really about me, my own internal being and cause. That is how I have to show up. When you sent the email to interview me, I had to push and remind myself that this is for me. This is an opportunity to amplify my voice, and this is where it begins.
What is your message to the community?
My message comes from reflecting on who I am and where I came from. It’s “let’s not forget where we came from and let’s not forget the foundation of who we are.” What I have learned is that many of us culturally have a belief/ relationship with God. I’m not talking about church and religion. I was baptized Methodist, grew up Catholic, I enjoy a good Revival and found joy at Temple.
We have the foundation. There are people that have suffered for us, people that came to this country to give us a better way of life. So let us not buy in to this American culture of status. Instead, let’s go deep down inside and free ourselves from our own woundedness, our own trauma that has nothing to do with the outside world and everything to do with healing ourselves from generational trauma. And let’s make sure we provide a society where our children’s children can thrive. How do we make sure we don’t lose who we are internally as God’s people? How do we make sure that we show the best of self and work to create an environment where all families are valued? My message is that we can live in Peace that surpasses human understanding, and a part of it comes from asking ourselves how can we be the best that we are called to be on this earth while we are alive. I want to invite you and those reading to come to the Peace Institute and try on Peace Play in Urban Settings and become the architect of your own inner healing. Ashe!
Tina Chery–Chaplain Clementina Chéry is the founder, President, and CEO of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. The Peace Institute is a center of healing, teaching, and learning for families and communities impacted by murder, grief, trauma, and loss. Chaplain Chéry and her family founded the Peace Institute in 1994 after her fifteen-year old son Louis D. Brown was murdered in the crossfire of a shootout. With over two decades of experience as a survivor serving families impacted by murder, Chaplain Chéry has developed the best practices in the field of homicide response. Her professional goal is to transform society’s response to homicide so that all families are treated with dignity and compassion, regardless of the circumstances. Her spiritual goal is to become a minister of God’s Peace that is rotted in love, unity faith, hope, courage, justice and in forgiveness. The Peace of God that surpasses human understanding.
To learn more about the work of The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute: