So, as a Dominican, Afro-Latina, and a woman in this country, I have some things to say. I am not angry, but I am sad and I am perplexed.
I am the product of two Dominican parents, who were born in the Dominican Republic. The issue of race in my family has always been a topic of conversation, particularly, whether or not we identify as African/Black when asked.
Just a little history lesson for those who don’t know. The Dominican Republic is part of what is called Hispaniola and houses the Dominican Republic and Haiti. We are what history books say is the first piece of land that Christopher Columbus “discovered”. I think it is better to say that he “claimed” a country for Spain, but this country already existed. He didn’t discover us.
Like any other racial group, we have racism within us. We separate each other based on skin color, eye color, hair texture, and facial features. This Dominican self-hatred has a long, standing, and deeply rooted history. Some think it began with the occupation of my country by the “white” communist president Rafael Trujillo, whose mission was to lighten the race during the 1930s.
In reality, our self-hatred goes further back to the war between ourselves and our neighbor Haiti. During this war, Dominicans were recruited to join the army against “those” black people: Haitians; perhaps not creating the beginning of our separateness but definitely solidifying for many Dominicans, that “black” was not the thing to be.
Trujillo’s reign further cemented the Dominican self-hatred that has become a point of conversation in the recent weeks, after the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests. Though many of us Dominicans are standing in solidarity of the Black Lives Matter movement, many are not because “we are not Black.” It’s important to recognize also, that black is not only referencing the color of your skin but there are black facial features as well that are traced back to Africa. Therefore, when you see a white or fair-skinned person with black features, I would be interested in seeing their DNA results.
Within my own family, this has been a topic of discussion, as some of my family members do not believe they are black. And of course, having worked in education, I’ve been the one trying to debunk this myth for them for decades.
My stepfather, a Cuban refugee, checked off the “white” box for race on the last US census. He has silky, dark hair with light skin that has Native American undertones when he tanned. He also speaks broken English. I tried to explain to him that if he walked into a room full of white people, he would be perceived as non-white. We proceeded to have a friendly argument for the next two years, he wouldn’t budge. Which is fine. My job wasn’t to make him change how he self-identified but to educate him.
My grandmother was 1 of 13 children, ranging from blonde, blue-eyed, and “good” hair on one end, to my grandmother who was very dark with textured hair and African facial features. She wanted my mom to marry someone from their pueblo who my mother rejected. She wanted to marry the “white” Dominican. My mother wanted to continue “whitening” our family. I remember hearing things like “Oh mi hija, vas a dañar la raza, despues que yo la trate de arreglar.” (You’re going to ruin the race after I tried to fix it.) or “Esa nariz me recuerda a tu papa. (Your nose reminds me of your dad). Even though he was light-skinned my dad had black features. Even with my hair, my mom was constantly trying to come up with remedies to make my hair less kinky. Listen, my mom was doing the best she could with the beliefs that had been indoctrinated in her for decades and generations.
Of my two brothers and I, I have the softer curl, hazel eyes, and tanned skin. But I inherited my white father’s broad nose which can be traced back to his African roots. My oldest brother shares my color skin but has finer features, thinner nose, smaller lips. My middle brother is what we call “yellow”. He is a little bit lighter with tons of freckles, and when he lets his beard grow you can see tinges of “red”.
It’s this brother who also doesn’t believe he is Black. Like, ok. Again, my job isn’t to force people to identify as black or anything for that matter, but at the very least to be educated, so that others don’t identify you – no matter who you are. What gender, race, sex, sexuality!
It’s also my mission to get you to self-reflect as to why we hate “black” across the board. Reflect on whether or not this has been an effort on behalf of others to get us to internalize this self-hatred, in order to separate us and create discord. The old saying, “divide and conquer”.
Self-educate about who you are, your roots, your ethnicity, and culture, your family make-up, so that you can intelligently have that conversation with others. And even if someone calls you “black”, that you don’t take it as a negative, and that as a person who is non-white, whether or not you identify as black, you can say “ok, what’s wrong with that?”
As a society, we need to debunk all the negativity around the black race, and even though we are all humans, we also need to acknowledge and respect the black experience. People need to stop asking us why we are angry about the Sandra Blands, Breonna Taylors, and George Floyds of our country. Stop asking us why we have resorted to protests and riots. Stop asking us why we have conversations with our black boys about how to avoid being killed at police stops.
Instead, perhaps try listening and empathizing. Try reading and educating yourself. Try to participate in society without white privilege. Try having difficult conversations.
Though, the murder of George Floyd was tragic, I think it was a blessing that it happened during quarantine. Many people, though enraged, were still afraid to go out and expose themselves to the pandemic. I believe the destruction and riots would have been amplified during normal times.
I also know that George Floyd’s murder raised the level of awareness of the younger generation to become activists and find something to stand and fight for. And, it was time.
My hope and prayer is the momentum continues and is not lost now that we are reintegrating into society. That it’s not lost in sitting in outdoor cafes, going to beaches, and going out to eat.
Because that would be the real tragedy.
I self-identify as Black. I am Afro Latina. I am Dominican. I am a woman. I am kind. I am loving. I am empathetic. And I am here.
Below is a poem I wrote in my 30s that I’d like to share. I share it with passion and a love of myself and my culture and my race!
If you’re not standing up for what’s right, then you’re supporting what’s wrong.
I am a 50-year old Latina divorcee who has been on a spiritual journey for, yikes, a really long time. Though I am not where I want to be, each day I do get closer to who I am meant to me.
I co-raised two young ladies and am a grandmother of two spunky, smart and funny kids – Max and Esme.
Education has been my niche for the last 20 years and I don’t know why. I wish someone had given me a career survey in high school or college to realize that #1- I am NOT a morning person and #2- I don’t really like kids, not even my own. So, I am searching for my passion. Not sure what that is yet. But there are a few things I am exploring, writing being one of them (that’s why I am here).
I have issues with commitment, not so much relationships but committing to my goals, putting in the work and seeing things through. But I did commit to making my 50’s the best decade ever. So far so good. I love yoga, traveling and writing; but mostly wine. Yes! I love wine.