It's a complex identity, being an Afro-Latino(a) who lives in the United States. People often have difficulty placing you in the constructs of their limited understanding and because of this, many of us Afro-Latinos have heard some bizarre, insulting, and sometimes hilarious things. Here's a few!
1. "Are you from Mexico?"
This has happened to me more when I moved South. It seems that many have only ever heard of Mexico or Puerto Rico. The conversation usually goes as following. "No," I would respond "My family is from Honduras. It is below Mexico."
"Oh, so it's not the same place?"
"Not at all." I would say.
I am always being asked if I'm Mexican and even after I tell people I am not Mexican some will try and give me the title simply to poke fun.
2. "Stop denying your blackness."
The first time I heard this I was in the fourth grade. I had thrown some water on my hair because it was sticking up awkwardly. My friend was in the restroom with me and said "Girl, you know that doesn't work for black people." I responded. "It usually works for me and I'm black, but actually I'm from Honduras." To this she responded "Stop trying to act like you're not just black!" Of course, the young girl was only speaking what she understood but the idea that I was trying to "not be black" has followed me into adulthood.
Just a few weeks ago a friend had admitted to me that when I first told her I was Latina she thought "This girl is trying to act like she's exotic." This is a very problematic way of thinking. For starters, it implies that I am trying to make myself special by stating that I grew up in a different culture than other African Americans, as if the African American culture is not something to be proud of or isn't beautiful and exotic in it's own right. The second issue is that those who says this seem to ignore the fact that many of us Afro-Latinos are first generation Americans. We did not grow up in the same culture as other African-Americans. We did not grow up in English speaking homes. We did not eat the food other African Americans ate. We are children of immigrants. This does not mean we are not black, but it also doesn't mean we are any less Latin. It takes people visiting my home and seeing that my home language is Spanish, to understand the depth of my identity.
3. "I've met Mexicans who are darker than you but they don't have nappy hair."
I think people would be surprised how many times I've had another Latin-American person call my hair "nappy." As if my hair is license to my ethnicity. When people say this it's almost as if they are expecting me to feel insulted. Instead, I feel honored because my hair tells the story of my interesting ancestry. Further, this statement asserts the level of ignorance in the Latin community. Those who have called my hair nappy are often quick to affiliate themselves with a white, blue-eyed, blonde haired Guatemalan all the while rejecting their darker peers. They pretend our ancestry is not black, indigenous, and european. Little do they know that they are doing more harm for the Latin American community than good.
4. "You're lying! Say something in Spanish!"
By far the most annoying part of being Afro-Latina is having people demand proof of my ethnicity. This is always happening to me and it's not one group of people doing it but everyone from the Spanish teacher during my Junior year of high school to the peers I met in college. I usually ignore these demands and simply state "If you don't believe me, that's not my problem." I wouldn't demand anyone to prove their identity and it's shocking how often Afro-Latinos experience this.
Bonus: "I didn't know there were people your color from (insert your country)!"
A vast part of the reason Afro-Latinos hear these phrases is because people are unaware of our existence. If people heard our stories, knew we existed, and understood how we lived, we would probably hear these phrases a lot less often. This makes speaking out about our experience of living in this "in-between" space all the more critical.