“Afro-Latina, camina conmigo. Salsa swagger anywhere she go, como ‘la negra tiene tumbao! ¡Azucar!’ Dance to the rhythm. Beat the drums of my skin. Afro-descendent, the rhythms within."
Those are the opening lines to award-winning slam champion Elizabeth Acevedo's spoken word poem, “Afro-Latina.” She speaks them with pride pouring from her lips as she recounts how she went how from rejecting her roots to embracing them with open arms.
“My parents' tongue was a gift which I quickly forgot after realizing my peers did not understand it. They did not understand me,” she says in her poem. "So I rejected habichuela y mangú, much preferring Happy Meals and Big Macs. Straightening my hair in imitation of Barbie. I was embarrassed by my grandmother’s colorful skirts and my mother’s [broken English], which cracked my pride when she spoke. So, shit, I would poke fun at her myself, hoping to lessen the humiliation. Proud to call myself American, a citizen of this nation, I hated the caramel color skin. Cursed God I’d been born the color of cinnamon. How quickly we forget where we come from.”
“Afro-Latina” has undergone several revisions to better reflect Acevedo's personal evolution. “[‘Afro-Latina’] was written initially as a group poem with poet and friend Frank Lopez... and overtime I remixed my portions because I felt a need to express that the term ‘Latina’ just didn’t feel specific enough,” she explained in an email to The Huffington Post. “I didn’t feel it adequately represented the way I walked through the world as not only someone who first spoke Spanish, but who also strongly identified with the blackness of my ancestry.”
Her most recent version, seen above, is a raw and honest account of self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-love. “Learning more about the history of the Dominican Republic, of colonialism, of slavery and post-slavery Latin America was huge in shifting what I thought about myself,” she explained to HuffPost. “The more I learned, the more I was proud of how each of these facets survived in the United States. How the survival of my parents' and grandparents' way of life was an extreme rebellion. It’s easy to say 'I want to sound and be like what’s perceived as the majority population' but once I realized that what I was doing was rejecting the richness of my culture, I was able to find ways to begin celebrating and loving myself.”
The intersection of black and Latino identity is often overlooked, be it in the mainstream media, by the government, or by members of both the black and Latino community.
Acevedo tells HuffPost she attempts to counter that erasure by celebrating her roots and remembering her ancestors in her work.
“We are the sons and daughters, el destino de mi gente,” she declares in her poem. “Black, brown, beautiful -- viviremos para siempre. Afro-Latinos hasta la muerte.”
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