I did not always identify as a LatiNegra. As many of my long-time readers know, my parents who are Puerto Rican immigrants, racially identify as White while they ethnically identify as Puerto Rican. I’ve always literally and figuratively been the Black sheep of my family. I’ve written about what that means to me in various capacities before. Today I want to share how I came to evolve into my LatiNegra identity.
Picture it: Beltsville, MD 2003. I’d just left my first ever full-time job with benefits when George Bush the second was re-elected President of the US. I realized that there would be no pay increase for me at my job where I provided training and did research on sexual health among adolescents and teen parents. What better way to stick out the next 4 years than in a PhD program in Women’s Studies? (I know there are many other ways, stay with me here).
I had earned a 2 year fellowship to study and part of the research I was doing with faculty of Color was creating an Intersectional Research Database (which was also used to help publish a book). As part of that research I came across an article by Dr. Lillian Comas-Díaz called "Mental Health Issues of African Latinas" which she wrote in the early 1990s. You can read my short Annotation in the Intersectional Research Database here. That was followed by an article by Marta I. Cruz-Janzen called Latinegras: Desired Women-Undesirable Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, and Wives where she writes:
Latinegras are Latinas of obvious black ancestry and undeniable ties to Africa, women whose ancestral mothers were abducted from the rich lands that cradled them to become and bear slaves, endure the lust of their masters, and nurture other women's children. They are the mothers of generations stripped of their identity and rich heritage that should have been their legacy. Latinegras are women who cannot escape the many layers of racism, sexism, and inhumanity that have marked their existence. Painters, poets, singers, and writers have exalted their beauty, loyalty, and strength, but centuries of open assaults and rapes have also turned them into concubines, prostitutes, and undesirable mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives.
Latinegras are marked by a cruel, racialized history because of the shades of their skin, the colors and shapes of their eyes, and the textures and hues of their hair. They are the darkest negras, morenas, and prietas, the brown and golden cholas and mulatas, and the wheat-colored triguenas. They are the light-skinned jabas with black features and the grifas with white looks but whose hair defiantly announces their ancestry. They are the Spanish-looking criollas, and the pardas and zambas who carry indigenous blood.
Latinegras represent the mirrors that most Latinos would like to shatter because they reflect the blackness Latinos don't want to see in themselves. (1) I am a Latinegra, born to a world that denies my humanity as a black person, a woman, and a Latina; born to a world where other Latinos reject me and deny my existence even though I share their heritage. As Lillian Comas-Diaz writes, the combination of race, ethnicity, and gender makes Latinegras a "minority within a minority." (2) Racism and sexism have been with me all my life. I was raised in Puerto Rico during the 19505 and 1960s, and lived on and off in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s. Today, I still live in both worlds, and most of the gender and race themes I grew up with remain. This essay is my personal and historical narrative of the intersection of racism and sexism that has defined my life and that of other Latinegras.
It was like I had found home.
Prior to finding that article I had chosen to make a political statement and racially identify as either Other or Black. I was identifying as Black more so than Other. I had made this decision the last time I filled out the US Census on my own and chose Other and wrote “African, Taino, Spanish/European colonizer.” I thought I was a rebel. I still think I am.
There were several similarities I experienced with Black women that I did not with other Latinas and then there were other similarities I shared exclusively with Latinas and not with Black women. There was always that “in between space.” That “hyphen.” But what happens to that space between the hyphen. Look at it this way:
Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean.
Last year when I was reading the last book by Elizabeth Nunez called Anna In Between, she asked that question as she joined our book club reading: what about the space between the hyphens? That hyphen doesn’t connect the words because there are spaces between the words and the hyphen. They do not every join. It is a bridge. A connector. It is not an explanation.
I started to joke with one of my homegirls, a Black woman living in the US, Keeley, that we would be the LatiNegras of the crew (capitalizing the L and the N to see them BOTH as proper nouns). Since then it has stuck. It is who I am. There is no hyphen to join two different identities, it is one identity all the time. It is me. I celebrate it. Will you join in the celebration?
Visit the LatiNegr@s Project Tumblr page and consider submitting something!