Trusting Where I Belong

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 Panameña.

Proudly Latina.

Proudly Black Latina.

Proudly Lauren.

Proudly Laurena.

Proudly Me.

 

-Lauren ❤

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What Form of Media Has Influenced You Most? [Black History Month]

 I love to read, but I must admit that I’m not as avid of a reader as I’d like to be (or portray to be). Not to mention, prior to my recent interest in self-help and Christian books, I was mostly into steamy fiction novels by Eric Jerome Dickey and the like 🙄 *looks the other way* lol

 

I read a lot of books off the “typical” reading lists in elementary, middle and high school with an occasional autobiography – preferably athletes (bonus if they were athlete and Black or Latino). But I’m not sure I’ve ever been much of a history book reader. I remember always diving into the black history section homework and readings in middle and highschool, but outside of that and a little Zora Neale Hurston and a 10 page research paper on James Weldon Johnson, I haven’t been much of a history reader.

 

February is Black History month in the States (and Canada). And so far this month, I’ve been really considering what black history I know (hell, what black present info do I know). And as I scroll up and down timelines I’m learning all kinds of tidbits I didn’t previously know. Those that really catch my eye, I dive a little deeper and do a google search and try to learn more. And naturally, I’m inspired by people and their lives and their innovativeness and their audacity to dream and their tenacity and their blackness and their heritage and much more.

 

And in doing some of these searches and learning now, I’ve thought about how I know what I know up to this point. I know I can credit much of my understanding and learning of facts, truths (and some lies and mistruths) about American and Black History via conversations at home, lack luster school history classes, Pan-African studies courses, reading, museum visits, movies, tv, radio, documentaries and social media. But I think one of the forms that I haven’t given much credit, is video. Due to the fact I wasn’t picking up many books on history, a lot of my youth and adult life has relied heavily on the importance of watching history. Whether I was visiting a museum or sitting in class or on my couch at home – a tv special, documentary or movie has played an important role in my learning and understanding of my history as an American and a Black (and Latino) woman. I’m so thankful for those who’ve made their life’s work to educate via video – I’ve definitely benefited from their craft. 

 

I’m curious, what has influenced your knowledge of Black and American history most? What forms of media do you think has influenced your learning most?

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