WHICH BOX DO I CHECK?
I often get the question of "where are you from?" or "what's your background?" and I guess that means I am pretty racially ambiguous. The beauty of being ambiguous is that people can't process you through their library of stereotypes & prejudices - instead they have to wait a bit to box you in... it gives you a little bit of freedom and time to just be you. The bad part about being racially ambiguous, or bi-cultural, is that you spend a lot of time feeling a bit out of place in the world. At least I know I have (and still do). I know the conversation around identity for anyone is a big one, but I think for biracial/bicultural kids it can be especially complex.
My mother is Dominican and my father is Spanish. I did not grow up with my dad. I met my dad when I was 18 years old. I grew up with my mother and her family. Yari - then it's simple, claim your Dominicaness! I do, I always do. But it's a little more complex than that. I was born in Santo Domingo and at the age of 3 I moved to Venezuela (specifically Isla de Margarita) with my mom. My mom had lived in Venezuela for 15 years at that point (my abuela + tias took care of me while mom got it together for us in Venezuela) - that's a LONG ASS TIME. So the memories of me as a kid are that from Venezuela. I don't remember not a ting about Santo Domingo. NOT A TING. I moved to NYC when I was a few months shy of turning 9 years old, and up until that point I really felt like I was Venezolana. Are you seeing the layers of my beautiful bicultural souffle?
To add to this, my mother was not what you'd think of when you think of a super duper Dominican mother. Yes in a lot of ways she was very Dominican, but you cannot escape 18 years of living in another country. So a lot of the cultural things I knew up until my 9th year of life were from Venezuela. I did not really start to understand Dominican things until I was 14 years old and started High School (Jr High was predominantly European, specifically Russian - yeah, chew on that). HS gave me the opportunity to be around an array of Dominican girls my age, who took me around their families and welcomed me in as their own. If it weren't for my girl Gigi, I probably would have never learned to love Bachata, nor would I have been able to hit up every house party in Corona, Queens. That was another thing, my mom and I moved to Corona which at the time was a smaller version of Washington Heights. So I really didn't come into my Dominicanness until this chapter of my life. And to be honest, I double dutched between feeling comfortable and like I was an outsider...
So IMAGINE how much I had to process when I met my father and visited Spain at the age of 18... your girl was confuzzled. Meeting my father didn't really give me much information about who,what,when,why - but what it did do was kick off my interest in understanding who I was as a woman with a 'mixed' background. I started to read more about the history of DR and Spain. I started to seek out more things that explored what it was to be an Afro Latina. I asked more questions about my father and his family ( I even went to Spain by myself when I was 28 to explore the country more), I gravitated more towards women who were very proud of their roots and culture and tried to learn as much as I could from them... and in turn the Yari you see today began to flourish.
I recently went to the African American Museum for History and Culture in DC with my boyfriend and friends and I felt all sorts of emotions. Starting with "do I have a right to feel a way about what happened?" and the more I read and walked and thought to myself, the louder my inner voice said YES YOU DO. One because I'm a human being who's ridiculously empathetic & feels for others in ways that can be unbearable at times, and two because regardless of all my layers - I am a product of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. And that right there, can't be questioned. Being in that museum also reminded me (for lack of a better word, because I never forget) that I am very much a part of and a PRODUCT OF Black Culture in America. From my creativity to the way I express myself - it is definitely fueled by my blackness... I'm still processing everything I saw and read, but I look forward to going back for more - and I encourage you to do the same.
I'm still learning (and hope to continue to learn) about 'where I come from' so that when I have some babies, I can provide them with all the knowledge I've gathered. I'm very conscious about colorism and how that also affects where my opinions are welcomed. I'm aware that my name -YARITZA- makes non POC think 'exotic! spicy! caliente!' so I have to be mindful of the rooms I walk into and that it's up to me to make sure I'm respected (I'm not your stereotype sir)-- because most of those rooms, wont be mindful for me.
I'm really proud to be part of a larger group of people from the African Diaspora and I refuse to let anyone take that away from me. No one can deny me of my love for mamis abichuelas, Juan Luis Guerra, the way my body moves when a tambora plays and the fact that at some point in my life I WILL own a house by the beach with a hammock. I'm an island girl at heart.
I wrote this because I wanted to share a little bit more about me with you, and because I hope through this post you remember to be kind with whomever you are and or are figuring out to be. Explore at your own pace, everyone else can wait.
Peace & Light
image post by lynnie z