I can remember the first time I felt I was different. I was a small kid in catholic school and I questioned my appearance. I perceived myself to not be as cute as the other boys my age; the lighter skinned boys. Granted, I was a very skinny kid. Being called “flaco” was not something that was foreign to me. But, what really made me think that I was ugly had to do with how little girls responded to me versus some of the other boys I had seen.
I wont even go into the fact that some of my lighter skinned cousins thought it was quite amusing to call me “tar baby”. While that seemed funny at the time to them, I can remember asking God (in the numerous times I was at church because, again I went to catholic school)why was I born with bad hair? Why was I born not looking more like my dad since he can have flowing hair that women seem to be attracted to? I recall thinking why did I have to have darker skin?
I have the complexion of my mother. While I hung out with mostly African Americans, I was always told that I am not black. This lead to confusion because the mirror told me something different. So this made going to High School and College very difficult for me. It can be hard to try to fit in when you are not sure of your own place in world. Now that I think about it, this is probably the reason why I did not get along with many people in High School. I chose my friends sparingly and I think even to this day, I am not sure I can call many of them friends at all.
I always assumed that the college experience would be different for me and it certainly was. But the dynamic of not fitting in with African American or Latinos was unsettling. The funny thing is not many people really believe there is a difference in the social order, as if it were my paranoia. However, when you are a dark Latino you know that it is far more that just paranoia. I learned very quickly that people can be very color struck when it come to the appearance of others.
Just to break it down. White people have always thought I was African American. Which is why that I feel the need to represent my culture while I am in Syracuse. I use my Afro-Latino persona as a way to teach people that we all do not look the same. I bring this up because my parents cannot believe I am like this “Super Latino” when I am at work, but you know what? Someone has got to wear the cape. Most African Americans just think I am black as well, but they are not too surprised about my origin. Latinos…well they just know.
The funny (well maybe not so funny) thing is that during my college years it was just so very apparent to me that I essentially did not fit in any group for long periods of time. Of course, when I look back at it most of my good friends are black. I had always got the feeling that I was just not Latino enough for my Latino classmates (not all felt that way, but most). Was it perhaps that I did not speak Spanish as everyone thinks I should have? I am not sure, but there was definitely something because I do know that I was one of very few Afro-Latinos on campus at the time (believe it or not there were not the many Dominicans as there are now at SU…lol).
Why do I bring this up? Why am I all of a sudden writing about this? Yes, I know that this blog has been mostly about my road to redemption, but I want people to realize that no matter what I go through, this identity that I have will always be apart of me. I want people to understand that I am very proud to say that I am Afro-Latino. I understand why my skin is dark. I understand the African roots of my culture that includes the music, culture and religion. I also understand why people do not understand where people like me are coming from.
One of the questions I do get is why did I pick the name “latinegro”. Well besides the obvious connotation there is another reason. Two years ago, I did a research paper on Afro Latinos and I ended up coming away with so much knowledge that I used this name that I found which was coined by another person. Her name is Marta Cruz-Jazen and she wrote “¿Y Tu Abuela A’onde Está?”, which a very interesting article and she calls people like myself, latinegros. Clearly I loved it and had to use it.
So let me define what latinegros are in my own words that I am taking straight from the research paper that I wrote: Latino Negros can be identified as dark skinned Latinos. Often times they will be referred to as Afro Latinos or Black Latinos. In the various Latino cultures throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, they represent the bottom of the social ladder. They are normally the poor and uneducated. The term Latino Negro is a not a term that is recognized nor used, but it is something I feel best represents what I am in relation to other Latinos.
This is who I am. This is what I identify as. I may not have an Afro but the Afro has me…