Growing up, I constantly felt stuck in the middle of a triangle – Black, Latina, American – bouncing from one identity to another. Today, I define my Blackness and my Latinidad on my own terms as I expand into more of myself. However, these definitions cannot be rigid because we, as a community, continue to evolve.
“No hables con ella porque ella no habla español.”
“¿Y see pajón? Vete p’al salón.”
“Pero ven acá. ¿Porqué siempre andas con ese pañuelo? Tú no eres Africana. Tú eres Latina.”
“You need to put some more n*gga in your voice.”
These are just a few of the statements I’ve heard growing up as a first-generation American-born Afro-Latina. My hair is kinky. My Spanish is broken. My skin is dark brown. And after years of wanting to change these things about myself, I embrace it all.
Growing up, my Blackness and my Latinidad were a source of tension. I felt like I was never enough of either, and yet, somehow, I was too much of both. Too Black to be Latina; too Latina to be Black. This duality is one that Afro-Latines know all too well. And being that I was raised in the suburbs, my proximity to whiteness made me a gringa in both languages. But trust me, the white kids at my school made it very clear I wasn’t one of them. I constantly felt as though I was stuck in the middle of a triangle – Black, Latina, American – bouncing from one identity to another.
Now as an adult, I realize this tension wasn’t my own.
It is normal for human beings to be confused by something (or someone) they haven’t seen before. And I’ve come to embrace that I am someone I haven’t seen before. I am Black, Latina, first-generation American, Muslim convert, city-born and suburban-raised, Spanglish speaker, with wild hair and golden skin. A morenita through and through. The issue is that we give too much space for our ancestors’ version of “Black” or “Latine,” giving little room for these definitions to expand as our identities intersect in ways they could not have imagined.
It’s time we give ourselves the same honor we give those who came before us.
My ancestors probably could not have imagined that someone like me would be born into their bloodline. Someone raised in an unfamiliar country, challenged with navigating whiteness in a way they have never had to do before, adopting a language they never had to speak, accepting a religion that further isolates me from their culture, and trekking a new path they didn’t even know existed.
I am someone they have never seen before.
So the aforementioned statements roll off my back and are replaced with affirmations of self-love. I define my Blackness and my Latinidad on my own terms in the hopes that as I expand into more of myself, I create room for my future children and their children to grow as well. These definitions cannot be rigid because we, as a community, continue to evolve. I am Black on my own terms. I am Latina on my own terms. I am American on my own terms.
I am taking up space in ways I have never seen, so I can be who my ancestors have never been.
About the Author
Aila Castane Jalloh
Aila Castane Jalloh is the Community + Virtual Events Manager for #WeAllGrow AMIGAS. Aila is passionate about creating sacred spaces for women of color to reconnect with their intuitions, remember their power, and return to their true authentic selves. A proud Afro-DominiCuban, she often writes about the nuances of Afro-Latinidad and has been published by the Dominican Writers Association as well as Virginia Commonwealth University’s progressive literature and art journal, Amendment.