Why is identifying as a Black Latino/Afro Latino important to you? Here and in your home country.
I have been reflecting on my experience in the DR. I was born and raised in the DR. I came to Boston when I was 12 years old. I have been looking back at being a Black Dominican and how that affected me or not, when I was in the Dominican Republic. I know that I wasn’t or I didn’t have to think about my color until I came to the US. I think in conversations with my mom because my parents worked really hard at shielding us from the reality that we were Black even in the Dominican Republic and shielding us from the experiences that they went through in the DR did not share the stories. For example, my mother recently shared with me that when I did ballet, which we were not supposed to do due to our economic status and based on our skin color in the DR but I was talented so I attended one of the best schools in DR. She told me, there was a student whose mom took her out of the academy because I was getting rows in front of her. She was lighter complexion and had more money. They saw it as unfair that ‘la Negrita’ was getting the primary roles. I think my mom did a good job of shielding that experience from me but I never felt like there was something wrong. I did notice that there was only two of us who were Black, physically Black even in the DR at the academy. I started wondering what my skin color and the tone of my skin color have to do with achieving things that seemed easier to achieve by those of a lighter complexion. These things were not supposed to be for us.
In moving to the states, everyone would ask me, what are you? I would say, I am Black and I would literally look at my skin and say, I am Black. So I never had a problem with embracing whatever you wanted to call me but, embracing my Blackness was important although I know that is a major issue for Dominicans. My biggest ‘beef’ if I can use that word, is that whenever Dominicans would say, ‘Tu tas prieta,’ they always say, ‘Como las Haitianos.’ What is that supposed to mean? ‘You look Haitian’ ‘Your complexion is Haitian’, what is that supposed to mean? I had a friend, when I was traveling to Cuba and I braided my hair, he said to me, ‘they will think you are one of them.’ My response to him was, we are all the same and we just got dropped off in different places. It is incredible how in the Dominican Republic, everything associated with poverty, con Negritud, with things that are not right, they automatically add Haitian to it. That has been my experience. It is important for me to acknowledge that I am Black because I am Black. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being Black. My concern is when it’s used in a negative way and then gets attached to Haitians. In the Dominican Republic you are raised to be afraid of Haitians. It wasn’t till I moved here that I started meeting Haitians and I would say, ‘oh you are pretty cool.’ All the negative things I heard about Vodou and they ate people so, I was in some way scared. Now I ask, what was the problem?
What has been the impact both positive and negative of people not seeing you as a Black Latino/Afro Latina?
It was frustrating when I moved here and other Dominicans would make the comment, ‘You don’t look Dominican.’ I was caught in the middle of African Americans who initially embraced me because they thought I was African American but the moment I spoke Spanish, then I wasn’t part of them. The other is Latinos and Dominicans who assumed I was African American then when I spoke Spanish and they realized I was Dominican, they would then want to embrace me. At that point, I was too angry. I was just like, ‘don’t come at me. I am not interested in being a part of your little group. Now that you hear me speaking you think I am one of yours but when you first looked at me you didn’t think I was, even though you look just like me. The negative is that you are caught in the middle of ‘what are you?’ Latinos saying to me, ‘don’t hang out with African American kids, they don’t like us and the African American kids would say, you Latinos treat us differently. The internal struggle, not mine, but observing the struggle of others with who I was. I was Ok being a Black Latina. I’m ok with being Dominican Black, whatever you want to call me, I am ok with that. Observing the conflict with others in wanting to put me in a box, wondering if they could claim me or not as part of them that is a deeply rooted negative.
The positive is, there is nothing better than being a Black Latina. There is nothing better than being able to trace who I am. I love my skin color. I love everything that makes me Dominican. I love my heritage, I love the food, and I love where it comes from and the connection to Africa. I just love it. I wouldn’t want to be anything else. I feel like in many ways being a Black Latina, I probably have less conflict than the lighter complexion Latinas who don’t want to acknowledge their heritage just because their complexion is lighter. For me it’s like, this is me, this is where it comes from.
You have been a part of Encuentro Diaspora Afro since the beginning. We have always made it a point to include the conversation between Haiti and Santo Domingo as one of our critical conversations that needs to be dealt with. How does the Haiti, Dominican relationship play itself out in the identifying of Blackness?
It really makes me sad that Haiti has been pigeonholed by the world as the less desirable place or people to be, when they are is so much richness in the country. They were the first ones to come out of enslavement, when they kicked everyone else’s butt. But somehow, they have been the target of so much hatred and so much self-hatred. My ex-husband was Haitian. So my son is Dominican and Haitian. In high school, I went to school with a lot of Haitians/under cover Haitians. I call them under cover because I did not know they were Haitians till we were older. It really broke my heart to be around other students who weren’t embracing they were Haitians because there was this shame. I work really hard with my son. I love when he tells people, ‘My Mom is Dominican, and my dad is Haitian.’ Honestly, I wish there was a term, instead of saying, half and half that there was a term that was more unifying, like ‘Quisqueyano.’ I wish there was a word because we are the same people. This divide is heart breaking. You can hear it among all the Caribbean nations. If you are Puerto Rican, Dominican but then you say Haitian then there is an ‘Oh.’ It is heartbreaking that even among ourselves, we found the place that ignited our freedom as the place where we place the most hatred towards and have all these messed up assumptions about.
How do you Amplify in a Latinx world that expects us to all look like J Lo and Marc Anthony?
This is aggravating. I’m one that does not hold her tongue. First of all, I amplify by being 1000% proud of who I am and not apologizing for who I am and not giving an explanation for who I am. To me, being Afro Latina doesn’t get any better than that so I already have that chip on my shoulder. Second of all, is knowing my history and even for my son whose dad is Haitian. For him to know that being Haitian is dope! Being Dominican is dope! Being Black is dope! There is nothing wrong with that. I want him to be able to say that. I amplify when I hear him say that. It fills me with pride. I also do it in conversations with people. My speaking Spanish is not a handicap. I also make the distinction, I bring up that in many Latino TV stations people don’t look like me. There is this notion that looking Latina is J Lo and that is just a small part of being Latina. I amplify by not shying away from the conversation by calling things as they are and being willing to have the discussions with people. I think we are growing up in a world where people are not willing to get into conversations that shake them. You have to be willing to have conversations with people who think differently than you do and yet be able to sustain that conversation long enough before they start calling you names. I did a talk last week to a group of social workers and none of them were Black which shocked me and it shouldn’t shock me. Twenty years later since I went to social work school, it looks exactly the same. To be able to tell them, Boston is racist is amplifying. Why should I hide from it? I amplify by speaking the truth, speaking my truth, by continuing to educate myself and those around me on what it is and how beautiful it is to be who we are.
Who we are is precious and because of it, somehow other forces have tried to hush our voices. Who we are is beyond anybody’s understanding and that is why it creates confusion in others. That is why they stop us from doing what we need to do. The message is, we are incredible. The color of our skin, the brain power that we posess, we pretty much invented everything that is in this world but have not been given credit for it. I think it is time for us to embrace and understand that there is no shame in who we are. Many try to makes us feel less so, that we don’t achieve the way we need to and how we did in Africa. I think dispersing us all over the world and dividing us the way we got divided, created a perfect opportunity to break us down and not be able to pass down to the other generation the amazingness that is in us.
Anne Hernández was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. At the age of the 12, she moved to Boston with her family and attended Boston Public Schools; the Mary E. Curley, Jeremiah E. Burke High School, and John D. O’Bryant (former Boston Technical High School). Anne considers herself a double-shark, having both a Bachelor and Masters degree from Simmons College.
In the last 18 years, after receiving her Master in Social Work, she’s worked in a wide range of settings and organizations, including YouthConnects, The Victims of Violence Program at the Cambridge Health Alliance, Big Sisters, and most recently Boston Public Schools where she has been a School Social Worker for the last ten years. In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member at Boston College School of Social Work, where she serves as an advisor and professor.