Tamika Burgess is a proud Afro-Latina who has learned to love exactly who God created her to be. She was born in San Diego, California to Panamanian parents and she currently lives in New York where she works as a freelance writer and copy editor. Tamika is also the creator of the monthly Afro-Latino newsletter Es Mi Cultura and the blog Essence of Me.
Below she shares her story about learning to embrace her identity.
Do you remember when you first began using the term Afro-Latina?
I’d never heard of the term Afro-Latina until 2011. My dad sent me an email from one of his friends about a documentary featuring Afro-Latinos discussing being underrepresented in the media. After watching it, I went on to research the term and watch additional videos of the same topic on YouTube. After grasping the concept and realizing the term described me, I started referring to myself as such.
Why are you proud of being an Afro-Latina?
I am proud of the woman I am and all that encompasses who I am. Being Afro-Latina is a huge part of that. My Afro-Latina identity has shaped me in so many ways that there is no way I couldn’t be proud. The beauty, complexities, confidence, and strength of my African, West Indian, and Panamanian cultural mixture is what makes me proud.
What type of experiences did you have growing up Panamanian in the United States?
While growing up, my parents always did their part to make sure my brother and I knew about our Panamanian culture. Specifically, twice a month my mom and aunts gathered me, my brother, and all my cousins together to learn to dance Típico and learn various things about Panamá. After months of practicing we learned full dance routines and started performing at cultural events. This included wearing traditional Panamanian clothing: Polleras for the girls, Montunos for the boys.
What is a special memory from your visits to Panamá?
I have so many special memories, but my favorite is from 2004 when we had a family reunion in Panamá. This was the only time that 90% of my mom’s side of the family was all together (even some of my dad’s family attended). This reunion stands out because we got to do so many activities which took us to different parts of Panamá, and also included a boat ride through the Panamá Canal.
Do you remember the discussion of identity in your household when you were growing up?
I didn’t have very many of these types of conversations during my childhood. The majority of them happened when I was in college. However, I do remember when I was in middle school a friend asked if I was in fact Black because my family is from Panamá. When I told my mom about this she didn’t go into much detail, because I’m sure I wouldn’t have understood, but she told me, “You are a Black Panamanian.” That was my response to anyone who had questions… until I got older and needed to know more.
Were there certain traditions you had that were different from friends growing up? If so, what were they?
The major difference was the way my family celebrated holidays. When many of my friends were eating traditional Southern meals on Thanksgiving, I was eating traditional West Indian and/or Panamanian foods. My family never celebrated Christmas on Christmas day. So when my friends spent Christmas Eve at home and gathered with family on Christmas day, my family was celebrating “Noche Buena.” That celebration in itself was completely different from what my friends did. As it consisted of lots of eating, loud talking, and dancing.
Another thing that was different from my friends was how incredibly close my family was. For birthdays, we gathered monthly to celebrate all the birthdays for that month with cake and ice cream, and of course food. When I was in high school a friend told me she wished her family was as close as mine.
In what ways do you embrace your identity?
I embrace my Afro-Latina identity simply by being true to it and not hiding or downplaying it for anyone. Especially for those who may not understand it.
What sparked your interest in writing? What are some of your favorite topics to tackle?
I don’t think anything ever sparked my interest in writing. It was always something that was in me. As a child I would always write essays and win school contests. In college, I had several people tell me I was a great writer and I even had professors encouraging me to write for the campus paper.
My favorite topics to tackle are the ones that inspire readers. Sharing my life and difficult situations for others to learn and gain encouragement from is why I write from a personal standpoint.
And in doing so, writing about my Afro-Latina identity just came about. As I wanted to share my stories for other Afro-Latinas to relate to. When I was growing up I didn’t have/didn’t know of any Afro-Latinas in the media whose story was like mine. Other than family, I had no one to identify with. I hope my writing can bring some sort of comfort to an Afro-Latina that might be struggling with her identity. I want her to read my writing and not feel alone in whatever she may be going through with trying to fit in or understanding her culture.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
To celebrate five years of blogging, during the month of April I will be hosting a give-away on my blog, The Essence of Me, where ladies can enter to win some of my favorite accessories. Winners will be announced in early May.
In addition, not a new project, but my latest is Es Mi Cultura, which launched during Latino Heritage Month 2015. This monthly newsletter spreads awareness of the wonderful contributions Afro-Latinas are making to further advance our presence.
Photos via Tamika Burgess.
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