Why is identifying as a Black Latino/Afro Latino important to you?
For me I think I started using the language Afro Latina about 5 years ago to honor history, reflect on colonization and especially as a Dominican to tap into the power of naming it. In a way, it was about joining a movement within the political spaces I occupied and I realized that we of the African diaspora were actively denying that identity. In the Dominican Republic we align more with our European heritage. We highlight the European side and down play or not mention at all the African side of our history. In leveraging the European over the other, we are saying that one is better, that the Black side is the lesser of the two and unconsciously suppressing parts of ourselves.
For me there’s a sense of pride, of belonging, and of excitement in naming it.
What has been the impact, both positive and negative of people not seeing you as a Black Latino/Afro Latino?
When I was not in my bilingual school space and not in a family space my greatest challenge was to be seen as a Latina. Many people thought I was mixed black and white. Even around other Latinos I would have to say, I am here, I understand you. I made it a point in non-Latino spaces to mark myself as a Latina by saying my name in Spanish or casually disclosing my background in conversation. I carry something around this that I am still processing. Not being seen as a Latina is even harder in my mind.
How do you Amplify/show up in a Latinx world that expects us all to look like J Lo and Marc Anthony?
How does this identity show up in your political work?
Mix- My personal journey is one of regular reflection about who I am and the things that feel right for me. And not giving myself a hard time if it doesn’t fit into someone else’s neat box. With my hair, I learned how to wear it naturally and curly, but that wasn’t until high school and I feel like I’m still learning. I deal with people telling me it makes me look younger than I am and I worry that people won’t take me seriously because of it. I’ve had to learn how to be kind to myself and practice letting myself be free from the image and expectations of others, and to celebrate that freedom. I’m still in that journey and it’s a daily practice. That is one piece of the broader story of how I show up. I try to process the parts of me that people have the hardest time with. Growing up I heard, you talk white. Having to then respond- this is how I speak, this is who I am. I used to think, do I try to change myself? It becomes frustrating to have to think about all of this. Constantly navigating how to be true to myself, what I came from, and loving myself and what I love to do.
In the work, I’m passionate about immigrant issues and spent a few years working in the immigration space. I feel like I have a responsibility to make the reality of my community be seen. So if I’m in a conversation about mass incarceration, then I have to talk about immigrants in detention too. For me it’s about how I connect. How do I bring more people in to the political space from my community? How do I insert myself or our community into an issue or conversation? How do we change government so that we are included?
Message for BHM
Let us learn and explore not only the history of our families but the black history all around us so we can better understand the inequities we are living with now and our power to build a sense of solidarity and create change together.
Born in the U.S. and raised in the Dominican Republic, Elizabeth “Eli” Pimentel has spent the last 10 years working with low-income marginalized communities in legal aid, advocacy organizations, and most recently municipal government. She served as an AmeriCorps member for three years, the last two with the Mass Promise Fellowship working with young people at the Youth Advocacy Department. Currently she leads Boston City Councilor Andrea J. Campbell’s team as her Chief of Staff. Previously she managed the Citizenship Program at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and before that she coordinated the Pro Bono program for the Alameda County Bar Association in California.
After graduating from Boston Latin School, Eli earned her B.A. in Government and African Studies from St. Lawrence University and two Master’s degrees, one in Human Rights Education from the University of San Francisco, another in Global Studies and International Affairs from Northeastern University. Eli is committed to community empowerment, loves to learn about different cultures and philosophies, and enjoys dancing.