The following post is Part II of ¿Quién Soy Yo?. Read Part I, They Call Me Trigueña in Puerto Rico, here.
The U.S. mainland awakens my Blackness.
In the late 60s I came to Chicago to teach Latino students in the Chicago Public School system. It was one year after the 1968 murder of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Being a young lady in her twenties leaving her homeland, I was unprepared for the horrendous treatment I experienced. I was subjected to bullying by white faculty, doors being slammed in my face, and jokes being made about my accent. I knew I could not endure this for a long period of time, however, I did with the help of my mentors.
My mentors were black Puerto Ricans who taught me to appreciate my identity and how to overcome the prejudices that were prevalent. They told me that in the United States (mainland) you are either black or white. I was no longer Meche the “trigueña” from Puerto Rico. I embraced my identity and realized that I was a black Latina, a Hispanic of African descent.
The U.S. census lacks a word to describe me. I am not white, nor am I phenotypically black. Entonces, quién soy yo (then who am I)? As a child growing up, my parents called me “La negrita.” Because of my “in-between” color trigueña was often the term attributed to me in Puerto Rico. After being in the United States (mainland) as an educator, wife and mother for over 40 years, I truly know who I am.
I am black.
I am Puerto Rican.
I am a black Puerto Rican.
I am Meche.
I admire the young people that are proud of their heritage and fight to be recognized as Afro-Latinas/os. The census bureau should understand that this is the 21st century and that careful thought must be given to accurately capture those who identify as Afro-Latino/a. Being Latino/a presents a very unique experience in the United States. Moreover, being Afro-Latino/a can often give rise to mistreatment because of the color of your skin, your hair texture, and/or because you embrace your Blackness. When Afro-Latinos/as are not accurately accounted for, this continues the reality of their challenges not being addressed.