I’ve always felt like I’ve never quite fit in. Besides being (slightly) socially awkward, that sense of belonging in cultural groups has often been fuzzy for me.
You see, my mom is black and from Portland, Oregon and my dad is Latino and from Panamá City, Panamá.
I can remember how confusing it was to fill in those bubbles on those state tests. First question – Spell your name. Second question – Put in the date. Third question – Choose your ethnicity (ONLY CHOOSE ONE) and the choices would be “Black, non-Hispanic” or “Hispanic or Latino”. *Slaps forehead* As a kid that was confusing. I always felt forced to choose where I belonged or just shoved into a category.
I didn’t get to choose my dad passing tho 😦
He passed when I was three. That left my mom to raise us on her own. So I guess you could say, I grew up “black.” We weren’t super close to my dad’s side of the family unfortunately (I can count on one hand how many times I spent quality time with them as a child). Like my grandpas funeral in Miami. I remember walking into a room and seeing a bunch of people who looked like me (our genes are SO strong!). I remember thinking that was so cool – long lost family easily identified me (so clearly I belonged there).
And the summer I spent a week in New York with mi abuela, mis tios and mis primos (Krystle, Kevin, Jackie, Melanie and Eric). Man. That trip meant so much to me, foreal. It’s probably a faded memory for everyone else, but I remember Jackie teaching me how to make sugar/cinnamon toast. Sneaking around uncle Alfredo’s house with Krystle & Kevin lmao! Predicting my future with Melanie playing M.A.S.H (y’all remember that game!????) and Eric and I riding bikes around the neighborhood and him leaving me on some random Brooklyn street to find my way back to their house (Dude left me for like 15 minutes and it felt like a lifetime).
I know my oldest sister remembers that summer too tho – it was my first time seeing her since I was a toddler. I got to hold my oldest niece when she was just a wittle baby! ❤
At times, I felt like I was on an island. Kind of isolated from everyone (it didn’t help we lived so far away too – from both my mom & dad’s side). With that, I definitely developed a deep longing to know family and my cultures.
I felt this the most when we were living in Kentucky. That was a really uncomfortable place to live for awhile. When we first moved there I was in middle school and I had never been reminded so many times in my life that I was black. There weren’t a lot of black people in the area (unless we went to Cincinnati – we’d see WAY more). But the kids at school reminded me alot. I didn’t remember ever feeling that way living in Seattle. Everything seemed more diverse…the people, the viewpoints, the food, the things to do…just everything! I was told “you talk funny” (because I enunciate all of syllables in words). People would ask if I was mixed with white. I’d say “No. I’m black and latina” then they’d assume I was Black and Mexican…like people just didn’t get me. I remember being TOO excited to graduate because I didn’t really feel like I belonged there either.
Looking back, I don’t hate our move to Kentucky. I wouldn’t be who I am, married to the person I’m married to and doing what I do without that move.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t ever wonder what life would be like if my dad was alive tho.
I’ve had so many questions for years and as an adult I’ve begun to branch out and reach out to family (slowly, but surely). But I feel like I’m in a constant state of “catch-up.” Like I have to make up for all the years of not knowing them and having a relationship with them. Because I grew up with what I’d call predominately “black” experiences, I sometimes feel like a “fake latina” too (especially since I don’t speak Spanish fluently).
However, if I’m trusting my truth, I must admit that although I would have loved to grow up in a Black and Panamanian household; Knowing both sides of my family well; Having Latin experiences and Black experiences, that’s just not my story. My experience is my experience. If I continue to look at it as if all those things made me less than or I’m lacking in experience, then I’ll always have that feeling like I missed out on something. My story and background is unique to me, and It doesn’t make me any less Black nor any less Panameña. That’s my truth.
So I won’t condemn myself or let those little thoughts that I’m not _______ enough, control how I feel about myself and where I belong. My mother is who she is. My father was who he was. And I am who I am.
I am proudly Black.
Proudly Black Latina.