As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month theme of "Enoughness," Latina hosted a Facebook Live conversation last week centering on the Afro-Latina experience.
The conversation, which included Chopped champ Santana Benitez, Latina digital managing editor Jada Gomez and yours truly, was a culmination of different perspectives. While Jada and I were both born and raised in New York City, Benitez was a military brat, born in England, but grew up all over the world. We all shared a commonality of being Puerto Rican, but with different cultures and identities mixed in.
We talked about what we think when people ask which we identify more with, our blackness or our Latinidad.
"I think this is super interesting for me because my mother and her mother's side of the family are Caribbean," Gomez said. "So when people find out my dad is 100% Puerto Rican, they don't think I should be identifying as black, but I find that disrespectful to the black women who raised me. I am 100% black, 100% Latina, and 100% Caribbean. I just embrace it all because I couldn't look my grandmother in the face and tell her I'm just Puerto Rican."
Benitez agreed, saying, "To be Puerto Rican means that African roots are in our blood — as much as we want to be under the Latina umbrella, we are as Latina as we are black."
Another thing that came up for us is the first time that we felt "othered" in our communities, which brought up a very sentimental story for our managing editor. At the mere age of 4, she was told by another black little girl in her class that her mother was "bad" for not marrying a black man.
"I just remember being a little kid and thinking, 'well, if my mom is bad, and she did something bad by marrying my dad, then am I bad?'" Gomez recalls. "I think that's what started the need for me to normalize myself when I was in circles of predominantly one race."
But her mother was quick to have a conversation clearing this up with her, telling her that what her classmate said came from a place of hurt that was even older than her and that she was made in love.
Whenever a conversation about AfroLatinidad comes up, one topic is definitely unavoidable: the concept of "pelo malo" or "bad hair." While it's typically a term that applies to kinky-textured hair in the Latino community, Benitez did an amazing job of turning this concept around on its head.
"We need to stop allowing ourselves to perpetuate these ideas," she said. "Pelo malo is what happens when you try to fight your natural texture with straightners and relaxers. That's when you get bad hair, because you've killed it."
Check out the entire conversation here.