Dichotomized Existence: The Struggles of an Afro-Latinx
BY SCARLETT LIRIANO CEPIN
Struggling with identity is a general rite of passage that is faced by anyone who has the displeasure of going through puberty, however this inner conflict increases in intensity when you consider those who are members of multiple marginalized communities. I didn't realize this as a kid.
Growing up, there was one thing I knew for sure about myself: I was Latina. I knew it when I would be forced to translate for my grandmother whenever we'd go out, I knew it when teachers would ask me why I had two last names, and I knew it when my classmates would talk about the kind of food they ate on Thanksgiving and I would have an incredibly hard time relating to them. My latinidad was something that was so deeply embossed into who I was, I never considered the possibility of being anything else.
As a kid, I noticed how there were rarely ever people who looked like us in the telenovelas my mother and grandmother so religiously tuned into every night, but I didn't think anything of it. I didn't think it was strange how Latinxs with darker skin tones and kinkier hair almost always played maids or criminals. I considered the fact they were even speaking Spanish a blessing. Back then, that was all the representation I needed.
My case isn't unique. A great deal of Latinx children are completely unaware of the complexity of their identities. We spend the majority of our lives identifying solely with our ethnic background, unknowingly disregarding our racial makeup. Such is the effect of this confusion, that many are completely unaware of the fact ethnicity and race are not the same thing.
I was in my senior year of high school the first time I realized the scale of this problem. We were all about to take AP exams, and the Scantrons required us to fill in some personal information for identification purposes. Everything was running smoothly, or as smoothly as it could run in a cafeteria full of high schoolers, until we reached the question that asked students to identify their racial background. The category did not include a box for Hispanic/Latino, and my classmates were confused. There were Latinx of indigenous, African, White, and even Asian descent present, yet they were totally oblivious to this fact.
The lack of diversity that is perpetuated in both mainstream media and both Latin American and Caribbean media is a significant contributor to these situations. However, the main culprit is lack of education, not necessarily within schools but within Latin American and Spanish-speaking Caribbean households. If the differences that existed between my Latinx classmates and I had been emphasized as we were growing up, we would have had to face a lot less of these eyebrow-raising situations.
It's nice to think that being raised this way would encourage less of a divide amongst Latinx, but the truth is, the divide is still very much present and it's just that attention is not often called towards it. There is a clear picture of what people consider a typical Latinx person to look like. This picture is what I like to call the Sofia Vergara, the typical telenovela star look, with red lipstick and an accent that is only considered sexy when it's coming from the right mouth. The perpetuation of this stereotypical phenotype is incredibly harmful to young Latinx children who do not fit into that mold they're so often exposed to. The recent push towards diversification in mainstream media has indeed started to trickle down into Latin American content, however, it's at a much smaller scale. It's imperative to emphasize the importance of intersectionality and diversity within our communities, if indeed we hope to see change outside of them.
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