For the last week of Black History Month and for the LatiNegr@s Project, I've decided to send out some questions to LatiNegr@s in my life who I've learned from, been mentored by, and have built community with and share them with you all. I thank each of them for agreeing to share their lives with us and to share them publicly. Today's interviewee is my homegirl: Jen.
Q. How do you want to be identified?
A. La Mariposa Roja, Indigrrl55, and Rev. Xiomara.
Q. What identities do you embrace/have/claim?
A. I identify as a Woman, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, Partner, Boriqua, Taina, Kanaka Maoli, India, LatiNegra, Triguenita, Mulatta, A Brooklynite, a Native NYer, Americana, My primary language is English although it is not my first language. My sexual orientation is fluid, omnisexual, pansexual, and/or queer.
Q. Do you have a preference regarding the terms LatiNegr@, Afr@-Latin@, etc? If so, which one and why?
A. I don’t really. I think that both terms accurately describe my heritage; however I find that I have met African Americans that negate my African heritage because they feel I am not entitled to use that. I have been told that I am “too lite-bright” – that my hair is “too fine” and that I “don’t look black.” All of which never cease to amaze me!
Q. What images/texts/narratives were available to you growing up about LatiNegr@s?
A. I am fortunate to have grown up in a household where there was a lot of Afro-Cuban, Brazillian and salsa music. La Lupe, Celia Cruz, Tito Rodrigues, Compay Segundo, Omara Portoundo, Sergio Mendes, Mongo Santamaria, ect. So I was exposed to many images of beautiful, strong Afro-Latino’s. During visits to Puerto Rico we would visit family in Loiza and near my Tio’s house there was a shanty where they played Bomba y Plena. It was so beautiful and primal and I could not help but want to move my body. It was a really moving experience. Unfortunately that was the only place in the media where I had that experience.
Q. Is there a specific or pivotal time in your life that stands out as being imperative to your consciousness as a LatiNegr@?
A. When I was younger we live in Brooklyn and I guess we were surrounded by many other families that were Caribbean, West Indian and many other Puerto Ricans that were LatiNegro so we didn’t really stick out, we felt it was very normal. However when I was 10 we moved to Brentwood on Long Island and we were the only Puerto Rican family in my neighborhood. When we started school a lot of the Puerto Ricans we went to school with identified as white so it was the first time I was questioned about my Latina heritage. People felt that my hair was too curly and I was too brown to be Puerto Rican. It was then that I first had to really think about my ancestry and what it was that made me LatiNegra. It was the reflection that gave me a connection to my “otherness” and an appreciation for who and what I was.
Q. What are your thoughts about the lived experiences of LatiNegr@s all over the world having similar experiences with those living in the US (i.e. HIV rates).
A. I think that in the US many LatiNegros are blended in to African American culture and their experiences, history, cultural needs are negated. I don’t know enough about what happens in other countries to make an accurate comparison.
Q. What symbols/rituals/etc. are important to you for maintaining community (locally, internationally, virtually) with other LatiNegr@s?
A. Unfortunately I am no longer active in a Santeria house, which is where I felt I was able to reconnect and embrace my Latinegra community connection. It was the only place where everyone was open to accepting the African part of their culture, the music, dancing, ritual and foods of those events made me feel connected, not only to the people in the room, but to People who danced to that music before me and would dance to the same songs after me. It was an electric feeling.
Q. Is there a book/image/quote/artifact/etc. that is important to you to symbolize your identity? If so, will you share one with us?
A. I have two favorite paintings by Luis Germàn Cajiga, I feel like they are symbols my my identity, heritage and diversity. Jibarita, which is just a beautiful brown girl walking in what appears to be the countryside. To me it just embraces the simple beauty of the women from Puerto Rico.
The other is BaileBomba, which reminds me of going to Puerto Rico as a young girl during the Patronales and watching the people dance in Vejigante mask, the sounds of the drums and the feeling that something deep inside of me needed to move.
Q. What else would you like to share with readers?
A. Those of us who identify as LatiNegra/o should make it a priority to embrace all aspects of our heritage, and retain the foods and cultural customs because for many of us it it’s the only inheritance that we have.
Q. Is there a way readers can reach you through social media?
Many thanks to Jen for sharing! Please go find her on the web and visit her virtual homes. Don't forget to visit the LatiNegr@s Tumblr Page and consider submitting something. The page will be available year-round as people are welcome to submit as often as they like.