As a Black Latina, Where Do I Count?

News & Politics
black or latina?When the U.S. Census recently reported that Latinos had replaced African Americans as the largest minority in the United States, I wondered, "How can I replace myself?"

I'm a Black Latina. My mother is a Black Nicaraguan and my father is African American. Where do these demographic shifts leave me, when at times I see myself as Black and at other times I feel more Latina?

I have many relatives who are just like me, Black and Nicaraguan. My cousins and I grew up in a Black neighborhood in East Palo Alto, Calif., playing with Black and Mexican kids. At the same time, we kept our Nicoyan (Nicaraguan) customs in our homes. From the stereo there were always sounds of Soca music -- a fast-paced style similar to reggae -- inter-mixed with old country music artists like Charlie Pride and Patsy Cline. Nicaraguans love old country music.

Even the food was saturated in my mother's culture. We ate rice and beans cooked in coconut milk, and Rundown -- a soup made with fried fish, cassava and green banana. We spoke Creole -- a dialect of English and French, created from a mix of British and Black Caribbean influences. It sounds the same way a Jamaican person would talk, but without the heavy accent.

There were always two cultural roles we had to play. While my family defined me as Latina, my friends kept me Black. When our Black friends came over, my cousins and I would talk slang with them, saying "hey, whass up rouge," or, "Girl, yo man look hurt!" My mom would make fun of us, mimicking the greeting "Whass up blood!" with her Nicoyan accent.

Racism from a fellow immigrant feels even worse than from a white American.

In some ways, looking Black helped my mother. When my mother and aunt first tried to immigrate to this country they were detained by patrol officers in Mexico and questioned. They were released the next day, and the kind officer told them, "If anyone in America asks where you are from, just say that you are from Texas." It worked. Because of her looks, my mother was accepted easily into Black America. At the same time, she was welcomed into Mexican culture here in America because she spoke Spanish and could relate to the immigrant experience.

They took the Greyhound up to East Palo Alto. Though being Latina comes with benefits, it also comes with its ups and downs. When Mexican women gossip about them in Spanish, my mother and aunt join the conversation and shock them. Racism from a fellow immigrant feels even worse than from a white American.

Today's California is different for me than it was for my mother. The Black-Latino culture is growing and has gotten more acceptance. There are Black Nicaraguans in my community, but there are also Black Panamanians, Brazilians and Afro-Brazilians. They are doing just as I do -- blending African-American culture with that of their homelands.

I don't know if the Census will ever have a box for me and my family. I guess I don't care about how, or if, it eventually defines me. I doubt that it can. I am happy to carry both my Black and Latina ways.

Shana White is a writer for DeBug, a publication by young workers, writers, and artists in Silicon Valley and a project of Pacific News Service.

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