By Onyx Ramírez
My mom tells me that my first solid food ever was tostones dipped in Catchú. (So that confirms my Dominican-ness.) But my Black-ness? My family did a good job of hiding my black-ness behind phrases like trigeña, morenita, and jabá. Terms like these were used to disguise my African roots. (Although the roots that grow out of my head, the ones that I grew up hating, shout my origins loud and proud). My family (maybe yours too!) puts other Dominicans down; the ones that have “bad hair” and the ones whose parents didn’t “marry up.” These customs aren’t exclusive to Dominicans, however; they're found all throughout the diaspora, even the world at large, and their origins stem from survival.
Person: Are you black?
Me: No, you crazy ? I’m Dominican.
Person: The first Africans of the slave trade were brought to Hispaniola.
Me: That doesn’t mean anything. Those people all kind of just...you know, disappeared, I guess. They have nothing to do with me and I for sure, have nothing to do with them. Yeah I’m brown, but I’m not dark enough to be black, right? My hair is curly and my nose is wide and I know for sure I’m not white, but I can’t be black. Spanish was my first language after all. Yeah we’re all fighting that good fight and ~equality~ and shit--but you and I are different . I have pigeonholed myself and I have a box, and that box is labeled “LATINA,” and I like that box. It’s comfy and I heard that I’m supposed to be a sexy dancer, which is nice.
Me: Shit okay, I guess I do have African roots somewhere down the line ...cool. I guess that means I’m ~diverse~ or whatever. Exotic mami, you know? Tryna put that on Instagram. I’m not black, though--chill.
Me: Okay, you know what? I guess I’m black. Here's the thing though, my mom (who is much darker than me,) was shunned by my dad’s side of the family (who are much lighter than me) because she was dark. What the shit am I supposed to do about that ? And yeah, it hurts when my aunts make passive aggressive comments about me looking “ghetto” when I leave my hair curly. And yeah, my family can be really racist sometimes, but what do you want me to do? These ideals and practices aren’t my family jewels, son. I don’t cherish them. They haven’t been passed down from generation to generation like your aunt Gweneviere’s antique china (that was acquired under some pretty sketchy circumstances) because Dominicans love being racist. This shit is survival instincts...If we try hard enough, if we pray hard enough, maybe, one day, we’ll be able to blend in with white folk. Then maybe, one day, someone will claim us. Because that’s the thing about the Diaspora...we’re not one and we’re not the other. Don’t nobody want me! Colonization did much more behind the scenes work than we give it credit for, and I'm all about gotta giving credit where credit is due . Along with the physical enslavement of 12 million people, came that mental slavery. Living in a world that was made to be the survival of the fittest--in a world where being black in 1930s DR could get you murdered-- I can understand why my family tells me to straighten my hair on Sundays a little better . There are systems in play that perpetuate this kind of thinking and if I could detail every one right here I would, but I can't, so I won't.
Person: Okay, so what now?
Me: Let's go get some maduros or something.