In life I have always been expected to choose a box- white, black ,Asian or other. Technically society states there are only 3 races, so choosing other is like saying you’re not of a defined race. It puts you in a weird place where you kind of have to choose one of the 3 because if you don’t you’re alien. I feel like I come from a heritage in which we can’t really pick one, but we want to so we can feel like we belong.
My awareness of race began like it does with most people. I was on a class trip in kindergarten at the Bronx zoo and my parents chaperoned. My dad bought my whole class souvenir pencils from the gift shop and handed them to all my classmates. All of a sudden a friend of mine turned to me shocked and said “I didn’t know your dad was from Africa”. I remember being very confused. My parents laughed and I didn’t understand why, all I knew was that my father was most definitely not from Africa. As I grew older I realized how pivotal that moment was in my life. It made realized how different I was physically from my father. Prior to that my father was not white or black to me, he was Dominican. African American or African never even enters our mentality because we identify as Hispanics. Because of our language and culture most Dominicans do not identify with the continent of Africa as our mother land regardless of the fact that 90% of our a ancestral DNA reveals that we in fact are mostly descendants of enslaved Africans brought over to Hispaniola by the Europeans.
So here’s the thing my appearance tells the world I am white. And as a child I never questioned that – I was a white Hispanic. Yet as soon as someone pointed out my differences my perception of myself changed. I felt guilty, I felt like my appearance wasn’t portraying who I was really was. But then again who am I racially? My mother is a puertorican of light skin along with her whole family who all have light skin and light colored eyes ranging from hazel to blue. And my father is a dark skinned Dominican who comes from a mixed family who are light and dark. Why do I have to choose whether I’m white or black? How can I say I’m white just because of my skin color when biologically I’m black too. And I know the label thing is tricky and unfair. But labels exist and like it are not we are sometimes forced to choose.
All my life I’ve tried to figure out what group I belong to. Am I biracial? Am i not? Am I any race? There was a time when I thought I was bi racial. But it didn’t feel right. Puertorican and Dominican culture is so similar I don’t really feel like we re different groups. I love both cultures, it’s part of my lifestyle, my persona and my essence. I love salsa as much as I love merengue… I love pasteles as much as I love locrio. You get the point. And then there’s an even broader group that I’m part of because of the language I speak. I feel a connection with Latinos and Hispanics in general because of the language we share. Our language brings us together regardless of what country we’re from. And I love that.
Pregnant with my second child, i know my children are going to be labeled as white or white Hispanics. As my husband is a light skin Dominican with green eyes. But I also want them to be aware of their mixed roots on both sides. I don’t want them to feel that superiority that some Dominicans on the island feel because of their skin color. Race in the Dominican Republic is something that Dominicans struggle with. I have been treated better than my father because of my whiteness. I have had family members tell me not to mix with a Dominican guy because even the white ones have African blood. I have been given priority over native Dominican girls in public settings because I’m a “gringa” or what they call a “Rubia”. And I don’t want my children growing up thinking that’s normal. I don’t want them to think that just because their skin is white theyre not black too. And when I use the word black in this context I mean of true African decent. Which while we don’t identify with that mother land I am not about to deny that my family are from those people as much as they are from the Europeans of the Iberian peninsula.
So without having to complete a DNA kit with ancestry.com – Now that I’m older, I realize that while I have to deal with labels and stigmas I don’t need to choose to belong to one specific thing. I can embrace my whiteness and my blackness. I can embrace that I’m mixed like most people really are -even though we want to belong to one group. Skin deep we are just humans and biologically we are one race. It’s about time we start recognizing that and love each other regardless of the label life has assigned to us.