As Latinos, we often discuss the issues that come with living at the center of two culturas: The Latin American one in our homes, and the U.S. one we discover in our escuelas.
Now imagine being Latino and African American, unraveling what it means to belong to two marginalized identities in the racist and xenophobic melting pot of los estados unidos.
That’s the goal behind Blaxicans of L.A., an Instagram photo project created by researcher Walter Thompson-Hernandez.
Snapping shots and sharing stories of different people of half-Mexican, half-African-American descent, Thompson-Hernandez, who is Blaxican, gives us a preview of what it’s like as a dual minority belonging to what he desribes as "two of the most aggrieved groups in Los Angeles."
"I'm a Black Chicana – that's it. I am positive of that and there's no way you can take that a part. You can't have one without the other. I don't feel the need to fight anymore; it's established that I'm a Black Chicana," Amanda proclaims.
"I ethnically identify as Afro-Mexican. Racially, I embrace my Blackness as here in LA that is typically how I am read and what my experience is. The identity of Afro-Mexican acknowledges my African roots as well as the land we live on, though claimed by America, belongs historically to indigenous Mexican peoples. My mom has always spoken about our family proudly in these terms. It's what I'd like to continue to promote," writes Richard.
"I've been in New York for twelve years now and one of the first things I noticed was the lack of good Mexican food and the lack of a visible Mexican community. I very quickly realized that I was often mistaken for someone from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, or Cuba. I often had to educate people about my background and it really challenged me to think about my own black and Mexican identity because I was constantly mistaken," says Judy.
"There's such a divide because even though we are Afro-Latinos and getting our numbers up you don't find too many. In New York you do and they have a good Muslim community out there. So they have a lot going on out there, but in LA our numbers are lower and we got to find where we fit in. That's why I was drawn to this project because it's hard growing up and going to your black family and they would be like why is your hair like that? Oh you got long hair? I'm gonna cut it off. And on your Latino side you're La Morena – it's definitely a struggle and it's good to be open minded," Myree says.
"We will explicitly teach her to be proud of the fact that she is Mexican and to be proud of the fact that she is black," this biracial couple says on raising their half-Mexican, half-African American daughter.
"There's not any other biracial people out here in south central besides my family. And sometimes it's hard to feel a part of a population. I've forced myself to identify with others and their cultures, so I'm always the one to become familiar with how they are or how they speak. I get asked questions about why my hair is the way it is and where my parents are from and whether I'm more Mexican or black – I hate that question because it's not like that; I'm no more than the other," Dyeneka explains.
"I'm Mexican and Black. As soon as I found out I was mixed it opened up my mind and I guess I was finally able to be me. When I was growing up, I was always the little dark Mexican, but once my mom told me I was black, I started to hang out with more black people and I stopped chasing the idea of proving to everyone that I was Hispanic," Maggie says.
"I was raised by a single father. I think it's a pretty unique story because my dad was Mexican and here he was raising me. He used to do my hair, my braids, and everything. He would always tell me that my hair and my dark skin was beautiful," Dsimona shares.
"I feel that one of the biggest challenges with being a Blaxican is having to identify with one or the other. After living in Mexico I lived with my dad. He's Black and from Philly. But he exposed me to every ethnicity imaginable. We lived in Chinatown, Pasadena, Baldwin Hills, and South Central, so for a while I just identified as Black. As I got older I learned to embrace both cultures equally. I've experienced life as a Mexican, I've experienced life as a Black male. It's a wonderful mix," Bob said.