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Afro-Latinidad: Reconciling My Competing Identities

By Ericka S. Familia, Crimson Opinion Writer

For most Black people, February 27th is fairly insignificant, simply marking the second-to-last day of Black History Month. For me, it wholly defines my experience with Blackness. In a way, it is fitting (although purely coincidental) that Dominican Independence Day is celebrated as Black History Month comes to a close, as for most of my life, I felt that I existed on the fringes of Blackness. The tensions between my Dominican-Hispanic and Black identities prevented me from feeling secure in my Blackness, even as my skin complexion made it unequivocally clear to everyone around me.

My Spanish-speaking household did not seem to fall in line with the stories we learned in school about Black History Month, so I naturally felt that February was intended to commemorate a history that I could not claim as my own. Despite Latin America being home to the largest Black population outside of Africa, this side of history was completely excluded from my curriculum. No evidence around me proved that being Black and Hispanic could coexist, and thus, I was forced to choose. As a child, I subconsciously chose the latter. I chose to detach myself from the Black identity not because I did not like my physical features, but because I had internalized a singular form of Blackness that I was unable to perfectly fit. I have always been called “morena” and “prieta” — both terms referencing my dark skin — by fellow Dominicans. I never questioned or objected to these names, but somehow I did not equate them with Blackness. I was confined in the interstitial state of knowing I was Black but being unable to use the term to describe my identity. For years, I clung to Latina, Hispanic, or simply Dominican.

I was forced to contend with my dormant identity crisis in high school when I began attending a predominantly white institution for the first time. At a school where few faces resembled mine, it was impossible for me to push my Blackness aside when “Black” encompassed the extent of what I was deemed by others. The conflicting identities that I had suppressed until then were unexpectedly brought to the forefront, and I realized that in a country where race inevitably governs how we navigate the spaces we inhabit, refraining from acknowledging my Blackness was not an option. History and society dictated the choice that I previously believed I had the freedom to make within the comfort of my sheltered childhood. More disconcerting, however, was the realization that I was doing myself the same disservice as those around me — stripping my identity of the nuance it possesses. Finding myself unable to place “Black” and “Latina” together in a neatly packaged box, I felt the need to simplify my identity.

As I began to actively think about my Blackness for the first time in my life, my immediate response was self-resentment. I was overcome with the agonizing feeling that I had renounced the right to claim my Black identity after failing to do so for so long. However, as I examined the origins of my denial, I realized that my experience was demonstrative of a very prevalent phenomenon in the Dominican Republic. Historically, the Dominican state has fostered a systematic erasure of Blackness from the DR’s national identity, directly linked to the strong anti-Haitian sentiment that characterizes the sociopolitical climate in the nation. Despite having gained independence from Spain for the second time in 1865, the Dominican Republic recognizes February 27, 1844 — the day the nation drove the Haitian army out of Santo Domingo — as its official day of independence. This decision precisely encapsulates the disconnect from my Blackness that has dominated my unsettling sense of self. The founding of the DR as an independent nation was predicated upon a fundamentally antagonistic relationship with our predominantly Black Haitian neighbors, and in turn, a proximity to the white Spanish colonizer. Further, an indoctrination campaign most potent during the military dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo perpetuated the racist and colorist claim that it is impossible to be both Black and Dominican without devaluing the latter. Realizing that I was simply another victim of the systemic anti-Blackness that pervades the DR, I stopped vilifying myself for discounting my Blackness.

My distance from the Caribbean nation has allowed me to recognize that my Spanish-speaking household does not at all change how I fundamentally navigate life in a Black body in the United States. This experience is what I have come to conclude is at the core of Afro-Latinidad.

The term Afro-Latina seems to have devolved into somewhat of a buzzword, but for me it is deeply significant. Embracing Afro-Latinidad liberates me from having to choose between aspects of my identity that I formerly believed to be mutually exclusive, as it allows me to feel secure in the fact that neither side of my racial and ethnic identity detracts from the other. Existing at the intersection of Black and Hispanic no longer produces the feeling of internal competition that I spent years attempting to expel. Afro-Latinidad has afforded me the opportunity for reconciliation that I needed to finally subdue the tensions between Black History Month and Dominican Independence Day.

Ericka S. Familia ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Greenough Hall.

This piece is a part of a focus on Black authors and experiences for Black History Month.

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