I did live it, I did suffer it

I am Puerto Rican and I don’t know what to choose in the “race” box. Do I choose white, because my grandmother’s skin color is light? Also, who determines the shades of black? Should I choose black because my mother’s skin color is dark?. Some people call me “negrita” (little black), is it used as a term of affection or is it because I am black?

How can I identify myself?

Those were questions I asked myself for many years while I was living in Puerto Rico. Oh, and believe me, I had access to great education so that was not the problem. The situation is that in our island, thanks to our ancestors, we have a very diverse population. For example, this is my grandmother and my mother:

At school it was no different, I had friends of every color: white, black, mulatto, Indian, albino, mestizo.

And yes, racism exists, everywhere, including Puerto Rico. However, I did not live it, I did not suffer it, I did not understand it.

Well, that’s what I thought…

From a very young age my hair went through a lot of chemicals in order for me to have it straight. It was a tradition that I followed through until I was 25 years old. I did not see it as something negative as it was part of my identity, of my routine. I received comments like “straighten your hair”, “I can see your edges”, “you have bad hair”, “your is burnt, it stinks” but ignorantly, they did not affect me. For me, the solution was to have the perfect hair, regardless of the methods. And by methods I mean, spending a lot of money in the hair salon(which I went to weekly), spending long hours with the air dryer, not going out as much because of humidity and depriving myself of activities that involved water. I did live it, I did suffer it, and now I understand it.

Then there was other typical comments, such as “negra perfilada or negra fina”, which means a black person with facial features of a white person. But don’t think that because you’re a “negra perfilada”, you will be at the same level as a light skin person. Your grandmother, mother and even your aunts, will tell you “no atraces la raza”. That means to not romantically relate yourself to a black person because it will affect your future. Who wants to have dark skin babies, with curly hair, big nose and big lips?If your skin color is light, don’t relate with someone dark, if your skin color is dark, don’t relate with someone darker than you. Unconsciously, those comments affected me when I looked myself at the mirror and even when choosing a romantic partner.

I did live it, I did suffer it, and now I understand it.

In case you didn’t know, every Puerto Rican has Africa in their blood. It may not be reflected in your physical features, but it is in your DNA. It is not okay to be silent because you think racism does not apply to you. It is not okay to ignore it because you do not live it or suffer it. Racism, whether based entirely on comments, on physical abuse, on injustices, on death, has to stop. This fight belongs to EVERYONE, NOTHING exempts you. Besides, what is the big deal with accepting our roots? Africa gives us flavor, gives us color, gives us movements, gives us essence, and above all, makes us human.

I’m begging you, please stop offending others, stop with the prejudice, stop denying who you are, stop being ignorant.

Actually, I did live it, I did suffer it, and now I understand that I am not “negrita”, I am BLACK and that is what I choose in the box; that I do not have “bad hair”, but I am AFROLATINA, that I am black AND beautiful and that my life is worth the same as everyone else’s.