WHAT ARE YOU?
We at TGM have mentioned that we pride ourselves in pushing an inclusive agenda for women of color. We are very blatantly and honestly trying to reach every corner and give WOC a space where they can talk TO each other WITH each other... or at least let each shed their skin and give other women a chance at understanding them more intimately. So because we're here for enlightenment and because it's Women's Herstory Month we're kicking off a topic that you will probably see a lot as we build this digital sisterhood: Below we're talking culture, race, ethnicity, upbringing, and sisterhood. Here are a few of the stories from our MOB Contributors. We hope you walk away a little more aware and a little less judgmental.
“You don’t Look Puerto Rican.”
That was often the response I would get from strangers after I told them my family is from Puerto Rico. It always puzzled me. “Well, what is a Puerto Rican supposed to look like?” I thought.
My grandparents moved to the United States from the island in the 50’s. My parents were born in New York City. I grew up in a Puerto Rican household in the Bronx. In my household we listened to salsa music and ate traditional Puerto Rican foods. Growing up my grandfather always referred to me as “gringa” (white girl.) It didn’t bother me until some of my extended family members started to make fun of my skin color and the fact that I didn’t speak fluent Spanish. Often times their remarks would make me feel removed from my heritage. It was the beginning of an identity crisis. Am I not Hispanic enough?
It’s hard enough to be criticized by non-Latinos, but to be mocked and judged by your own family members was worse. I wasn’t brown or dark enough to be considered Hispanic or Latina. It was ironic. I thought my family would be more tolerant of our Hispanic diversity. Puerto Ricans are a mix of Taino Indian, Spanish, and African ancestry. I share the same fair skin as my Spanish ancestors.
After the criticism, I felt an immense pressure to assimilate into my own culture. I learned more about my family history and perfected my ability to dance salsa, merengue, and bachata.
I can admit there were times I didn’t feel fully connected with other Hispanics or Latinos because of my pale skin and lack of speaking Spanish. However, I know how diverse my culture is. This motivated me to rise above people’s judgment. Who are they to say I’m not Hispanic enough? Why am I struggling with my ethnic and racial identity? Why am I even questioning it!
Soon I began to realize that I was just raised differently. English fluency was more important to my parents. Being Hispanic and lacking some Spanish fluency used to make me feel insecure, but I never felt a sense of loss. I may not speak the native tongue, but I am able to read and understand it. My mom made it a priority to talk about our culture and our history. Because of that I have always been proud of my heritage. I am unapologetically me regardless of what I look like or what language I speak. As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that other people’s opinions should not have an effect on me. What’s important is to know who you are, where you come from and concentrate on being a better version of yourself.
No matter what anyone says, Yo soy Boricua pa' que tu lo' sepas!
I am a multiracial woman. My mother who is a Dominican woman was a single mom but my father would see me close to every other week. His father is a refugee from Hungary and his mother is a Native American and Black woman. I grew up with both Black and Latin influences in my households, so I got to learn a lot about the intricacies of both sides. Even my grandfather dealt with race/cultural issues himself growing up. Living in New York I did not experience racism to the extent that my mother or my grandparents have, but moving to California has shown me instances of it. I have had Hispanic women call me nasty names in Spanish not knowing I know what they're saying. I have also dealt with snobby higher class people in LA saying something about me being Black and shopping at the grocery store in Beverly Hills. I'm just glad I learned patience from my family, because I know how to deal when those situations present themselves.
Both of my parents are Black American. Much isn't known on my mother's side regarding any other ethnicities. However, on my father's side there are traces of Native American (both Creek and Cherokee) as well as Caucasian. Growing up I didn't identify with anything other than Black because the information and cultural experiences just weren't provided for me. My grandmother has been vocal about all that she knows -but even that has been limiting. I also used to feel ashamed because when I would proudly talk about my Native American heritage a lot of other older black women would tell me "yeah, yeah - all black people have Native American in them, you're just Black".
Thankfully my parents never spoke like that and encouraged me to continue to research. Once I came to college I had an interesting experience that shifted my perspective. I had the opportunity to travel the West Coast and Southern parts of the country to experience art and culture and one of our stops was a Navajo reservation in Arizona. Being one of the only Black females in the group (besides my close friend) I didn't know what to expect. Yet to my surprise, the elderly native village women pulled me to the side and began questioning my ethnicity. Each time I told them I was "just Black" (due to my experiences as a child) they'd correct me and ask again.
Although, I still haven't fully researched my lineage or experienced nearly as much as I would like to, I now feel free enough to vocally mention the layers of me that I have knowledge of. I'm also no longer ashamed or feel shamed by my Black counterparts that argue everyone is something. To me my truth is fascinating and just because one hopes to experience their other cultural backgrounds, it doesn't diminish the ones that they already identify with.
Filipinxs and Puerto Ricans - we share a LOT of Latinidad culturisms. The only difference is geographic context (Asia and Americas). From basic things like food, language, music, dance, names and family to colonial, and social complexities like colorism, labor-working jobs, governing, and religious history. Think about it, they're both island nations who started with native indigenous populations and African ancestry, who then suffered from and have been affected by the problems brought on from white Spanish colonization and US imperialism.
In the states, I moved around a lot from the West Coast to the East Coast, so I didn't grow up in just one neighborhood with any huge Filipino population. And I'm light skinned, which means my features make me a brown girl who passes for yellow. So in White and Black spaces, the Asian-American stereotypes were forced onto me, even if I didn't really identify with them. Looking at old pics from my childhood, I see that most of my friends were Black and Brown. And while we all experience oppression differently, we all grew up facing micro-aggressions together.
Now it isn't just about hangin' out at the playground or each other's houses together anymore. Now I'm grown, so the playground has turned into solidarity marches. Playing at each other's houses now means having each other's backs on social media. And being present in what unifies us as a people.
My mom is European, she grew up in Europe. My dad is Creole (Black, Native, French, and Spanish). I personally identify as Black and/or Creole. I grew up in the small town of Medical Lake, WA, population 4,500. I was one of maybe 5 people of color. That was extremely marginalizing. My Blackness was what separated me from my peers. I never fit in no matter how hard I tried to assimilate. Once I went to college I immersed myself into the Black community, which was both incredibly rewarding as I finally felt like I had found the missing piece to my identity, but was also very overwhelming. I felt like I had dove head first into a new reality. It was incredibly difficult to navigate between what I had known and what I was now being exposed to.
I still struggle with going back and forth between my community and my family, since they are two very different groups of people with very different experiences. I often feel that my identity is not understood by most, both in and out of the Black community. There are delicate intricacies at play that no one realizes, like having to navigate White spaces as a conditionally White passing woman of color, especially when those spaces are with your own family, or having to deal with internal colorism, and never quite having a space to call your own. It's imperative that as marginalized women, we take the time to acknowledge, respect, and empathize with our differences as well as our similarities.
Want to learn more? Check out EPS3 of our Podcast where we talk about these topics more in depth with a diverse room of women.
Post Image Credit: Jirawadi