Why is important to identify as an Afro descendant?
My father is Dominican and my mother is White Jewish-American. I identify as a biracial woman of color, Dominican-American, Jewish American, Latina and Afro descendant from my father’s side. I acknowledge and embrace my complex mixed background and acknowledge my light skinned privilege as well.
I think that the word Afro-Latino is important because I think for many of us who come from Latin America and the Caribbean we understand the Blackness in the origins in our countries like, in countries like Panama and the Dominican Republic. I think perhaps people think this is a trending topic of today but it’s not something new, it’s always been important, a vital part of our stories- the story of our countries of origin. Afro-Latinidad has always existed and African history has always been a part of our history and a central part of our heritage.
It is important to acknowledge Afro-Latinidad and to acknowledge that although we are all united in the Latinx community, which is such a beautiful thing that as a community no matter what country we are from that we are united and feel a part of a larger community- it is so important to understand we are not a monolith- that colorism exists in our communities and that representation of Afro-Latinidad in the conversation of Latinidad is at times left out- and representation of Afro-Latinx in the conversation is so important. When we say, Afro Latino, black Latino, we are saying that there is a community within the community that needs to be acknowledged and heard, celebrated and not put on the sidelines. I think that is why I find it to be empowering. This is not new and you know this more than anyone in the Boston community, if there is something “new” perhaps, it’s the word that is being used – this word that will help people understand that when we talk about being Latino, it is complex. There is colorism in our community and to use the term Afro-Latino this creates a platform for the Black community in our communities across countries to be seen, to be heard, to be celebrated, given space, to take up space in the conversation of Latinidad. It is so important.
As a writer, as an artist, I look at it as we, the Latino community, we have the responsibility to understand the importance of representation within our community. It is not enough to say, here we are, we are all Latinos, and it’s wonderful yet we look at a photograph of all light skinned Latinos. Where is the representation of Black Latinos? It is so important. We need to understand that there is a whole group of Latinos that often do not see themselves represented in media, in politics, in the movies, on tv, in the magazines, etc. It’s as if we’re saying, we are in this together but only the light skinned in our community can represent us and that is not the truth. We need to have the conversations to talk about this and acknowledge it and acknowledge white privilege and colorism within our community and also acknowledge the complexities of this conversation in our community. Those conversations will truly bring us together.
Positive and Negative
Could you share some specifics around-representing Afro Latino issues within the Pineapple Diaries?
As a writer and a creator of an ensemble show of characters, there is always a little piece of me in all the characters. These characters stories are inspired by some of my life experiences, inspired by everyday life, inspired by growing up, inspired by my family and family stories, my friends and their life experiences and stories, my group of girlfriends in DR and in Boston and beyond. This show is a reflection of them and pieces of me and my city and my surroundings here in Boston and DR.
I think the best that I can do is try to tell honest stories. These characters they really live and breathe to me and they are complex and I understand there lived experiences even in this imaginary world. I see my family, my cousins, my father, my aunts my group of girlfriends in these characters- I see myself in these characters and their stories and I also see my family reflected in these stories, my friends stories told through these characters, my aunts stories told through these characters, I see a reality that is real to me and to those close to me reflected in these stories and that is what I set out to do- to create something that we could connect with, something that felt real, that felt honest and authentic. Something from this corner of the city, of the country, I hadn’t seen on TV yet.
When I set out to do the show, it is absolutely the case that I wanted to make sure it looked like a Latinx show that I hadn’t seen before which meant a show that included Afro Latinidad. I saw all too much that shows about Latinx often were mostly or all light-skinned- telenovelas, etc. But that’s not what we all look like. That’s not what my group of friends looks like. All light skinned – that’s not what Dominicanidad looks like. And It is important to see Black Dominicanidad on TV. So I wanted to take that reality, inspired by my group of girlfriends Dominicanas- and put that reality on screen. I didn’t have to stretch the truth, this is what it is. Take that truth and put it on screen. I mean it’s a fiction comedy show with actors of course haha but when it comes to the characters, the place where they come from comes from an honest place.
As a complicated Dominican American navigating my complexity I have never seen it on TV- as a biracial Dominican I have never seen myself on TV so I decided to make my character (the character I play, Feliz) be bi-racial as well. I wanted that representation as well: representation of Afro-Latinidad, Biracial Latinidad, A Dominican-American that doesn’t know how to speak Spanish, a Dominican-American that speaks great Spanish, a characters that speaks Spanish machucado, a Dominican that loves bachata but also a Dominican that likes the Deftones and Dominicans that love both. I wanted our complexities reflected through these characters on the show. The show is about everyday life for these characters in their 20s and 30s in Boston and the protagonists are Dominican-American women, women of color.
How do you amplify in a world that doesn’t see the complexity of our identity?
I have lived my entire life with people not being able to pick out what I am, that has been my life- being biracial – and as a teenager feeling like I’m not “this” enough, not “that” enough.
But now I’m 32 years old, on my life journey to this point I’ve connected with the different parts of me on both sides, family history on both sides, my roots, my story – and I embrace my complexities- all the parts of me, I embrace being me. I am enough.
I have embraced my identity as being bi-racial. I do understand my privilege as a light skinned woman of color and my complexities as a biracial woman of color and I am always listening and learning and I understand the things that are important to me as an artist and a writer: representation and telling stories that come from an honest place, seeing more characters that look like my Papi on screen, seeing more characters that look like my Tias, my primos on screen – and seeing characters that reflect the complexities that can be found in, for example, a group of girlfriends like me and my friends in Boston or in DR.
What I want to do, what inspires me, is telling stories that make people laugh, that make people feel connected, that people feel seen in the stories I tell- that they can relate and feel seen. The most I can do is keep trying. My life experiences as I continue to learn and grow- inspire me and my storytelling. The real people around and in my communities inspire my storytelling. Those are the people and stories I want to amplify.
Black history is the history of this country. We need to learn it, celebrate it and represent it always. Always. All year round.
Paloma Valenzuela is a Dominican-American writer, director and actress originally from the city of Boston. She is the creative director of the production operation La Gringa Loca Productions based in Boston and the Dominican Republic. She has worked in several film productions in the Dominican Republic and played the role of Lolita in the 2017 film “Un 4to De Josue” which she won an Iris Dominicana Movie Award for Best Supporting Actress. She is the writer/producer/creator of the comedic web series “The Pineapple Diaries”. The show was featured in the Latina Magazine’s “5 Web Series Every Latinx Needs to Watch Right Now”. In 2019 Paloma was featured in Boston Magazine’s “Boston’s New Creative Guard” and selected as one of the WBUR The Artery 25, a series highlighting millennials of color making an impact in the Boston arts scene. Paloma has collaborated with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and is currently editing and launching the third season of “The Pineapple Diaries”. She is the recipient of the 2016 Creative City Grant and 2018 City of Boston Opportunity Grant. She is a 2019 City of Boston Artist Fellow. She is also an Artist in Residency at The Urbano Project (Spring 2020).