Why is identifying as a Black Latino/Afro Latino important to you? Here and in your home country.
I think it’s important because of where I live and where I was born in the United States. Living here and growing up in this society, I understand that I am Dominican and Boricua and because I show more of my Boricua features with my lighter skin tone and dark hair, people would always contradict me. So your hair is black but your skin isn’t. How are you Afro-Latina? You don’t sound Latina? Or you don’t sound black. I always got this growing up and because I took my studies seriously, I also got people saying, ‘I sound white, I act white.’ People always saw me and correlated me with being white. Even in my very own family.
I love reading your blog series because a lot of the people who identify as Afro Latinos are Dominicans, pero growing up, it was my Dominican side that told me I am the least Black. And I was confused because my Dominican side are all dark skin with dark coarse textured hair. What do you mean we are not Black? I remember being little and kids around me would ask, what are you? I would say, I am Black and Latina and my father would hear me across the room and yell, ‘Tu no eres Negra, You are not Black.’ I’m like, aren’t you black Dad? Because no one ever talked to me about race, so I am going off my father’s skin color who is Black and my mother’s skin tone which is lighter. For me, growing up it was hard to identify or really stand firm in my identity as an Afro Latina because the kids were also telling me, ‘You are not Black enough’ and my Latino friends would say, ‘You are not Latina enough’, I was all over the place, moving around a lot and not having a stable home, I was always in a new school.
I would go to my safe zone and my safe zone is what I knew and again I would get thrown in the white box because I loved school, the way I articulate myself. I love to read. I feel like back then, growing up in the early 90’s, early 2000’s, as a person of color, a kid of color, it was almost like you wanted to act out. You didn’t want to be smart. The stuff we saw in the streets and in our neighborhoods was so glorified to us that it wasn’t cool if you showed that you took your studies serious or did “white activities.” I dealt with a lot of that growing up. I grew up around domestic violence, substance abuse and in low income neighborhoods. I became hypervigilant to everyone around me. I wasn’t aware of the entrenched racism that we faced because of my lighter skin tone until I got older. My name is Luz Mari Villar, it sounds very Latina. A lot of times I would move around to schools. When I would get to the schools, they would put me in the special needs classes. They would say, ‘You are Latina. Do you even speak English that well?” Until I opened my mouth and started speaking, they would then say, ‘Oh she is in the wrong class.”
For all the schools I moved to, 9 out of ten times, they had to switch my courses from special needs to honors because they automatically assumed with my name, you see I move all the time, you see I come from a single parent headed household so you are assuming all the statistics that come with that too, “oh she must belong in this class.” I was aware of all of that, at a young age, I understood I had to work harder than my white peers. I am the first one in my immediate family to graduate from high school and college. I have had to turn down opportunities with organizations, led by folks with privilege who hear my story and say, “That’s a sad story.” I feel exploited. No, I think it is important to talk about my Blackness and how I identify as an Afro Latina and what that experience is like in this country. As an artist, a public servant, as a mentor I think it’s important to stand firm in that space because for so long I was told I am not black. I let other people whitewash me and then I denied it at one point. I was so far gone that I lost myself. I had all this white noise in my head. That white noise grew so loud it drove me into depression, I knew I had to ground myself by going back to my roots. Which meant amending my relationship with my parents and following my family tree.
1. -What has been the impact both positive and negative of people not seeing you as a Black Latino/Afro Latino? Here and home country
The positive is an unfortunate positive, recognizing my privilege as being an Afro Latina where I am light skin and my hair is a different texture than your normal African identifying individual. This society and what they deem as beautiful, works for my European attributes. Like I said before my family has the spectrum. The darker side of the family have and still face barriers. The negative side was that I struggled with my identity and stepping into it for a long time. As a young kid I remember saying to people I am Afro Latina and people would say, you are not black, you don’t sound black and you don’t act black. When I would hang out with my Latinx friends they would say, you are not Latina enough, you are actually really dark skin for a Puerto Rican. Being a woman, there is constantly this narrative around what I look like, I felt hypersexualized. I didn’t know what systemic oppression meant. I am 28 years old now. It wasn’t till I was 24 that I fully stepped into my identity and am unapologetic about it. People have called me out. I have had people, very well-known people who have made it their business after I identify as an Afro Latina, to come tell me, I’m not Afro. A lot of the culture, the traditions, and the etiquette that comes with what it means to be African and what it means to be Latina was an anomaly to folks. You brought up a great point that I think people have a hard time struggling with, the word Latina itself still has European connotations to it. At times I say, Taina or Afro Caribbean and folks asks what does it mean and I respond, it’s another way I say I’m Afro Latina. I identify as both now but when you live in a society that is constantly telling you to lean on your European side, eventually you are going to do it.
2. -How do you Amplify in a Latinx world that expects us to all look like J Lo and Marc Anthony?
I amplify myself by being my whole self where ever I am. People have their stereotypical version of what it means to be a Latina. Which usually just leaves me feeling hypersexualized. They see J Lo and they think that is what all Puerto Ricans look like then everyone is so surprised when dark skin Puerto Ricans are seen. I do not shy away that I was born in this country and I grew up in an American system. But I also grew up with my father and mother in a household ingraining in me that I am Boricua and Dominicana, I am from Bani, celebrating semana Santa, el baile de palo and bomba. The food we eat, the music we listen to, the rhythms that make us dance, I bring all of that in every space I am in. Our culture is deeper than the surface level image we get of the Latinx celebrities in mainstream media. I amplify our abilities and talents and how it keeps the culture alive. I am celebrating Blacks, I am celebrating our Afro roots within Latin culture. I am lifting up voices, sharing my own stories.
3. What is your message for Black History Month?
Be open to learning and sitting with the discomfort that comes with the information. We have to be able to have these conversations. People usually associate disagreement with conflict but I have found disagreement comes with opportunity. Where are we getting our information from? We are in the age of technology, at this point we have no excuse to educate ourselves and address this issue. I am here to listen to other perspectives and to contribute my own. I think we have to be honest and transparent with each other and that is a hard pill to swallow because I feel like even within our Latinx community, the conversation is still so new. The Diaspora is a global issue. There is much work to be done in this space in defining our roots. I do want to be honest about telling the African story without watering it down and also telling the Latino side without forgetting the afro roots in it. Maybe the discomfort comes from not understanding how to bridge that. There is only so long you can say, I don’t know. It’s time to ask, why don’t we know? When we don’t know who we are and where we stand, we will fall for anything.
Luz Villar is an Afro-Latina woman born and raised in Massachusetts. She currently serves as the Executive Assistant for United States Representative Ayanna Pressley of the 7th Congressional District of Massachusetts. Working full-time, Luz also was a full-time student at Cambridge College where she graduated in 2017 earning her bachelor’s degree in Business Management, making her the first in her family to graduate high school and college. Due to the adversity Luz faced in her life, from domestic and drug violence to being in the foster care system, she has dedicated herself to mentoring youth, especially young girls. Not only is Luz a Big Sister for the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston she also leads the Youth Advisory Council for Congresswoman Pressley which is a coalition of young people that come together to work on policy, community organizing, and civic engagement. Luz continues to speak to young people across the country about overcoming adversity and using it to their advantage. She has been recognized as a Big Igniter by the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston and as a nominee for Boston’s top 30 Latinos Under 30 by El Mundo. Luz aspires to continue her work as a public servant in government, challenging the systems that have disproportionately impacted marginalized communities and families like hers.