According to the Census Bureau, the Latino community boasts a population over 50 million or in other words 1 in every 6 American in the U.S. is of Spanish origin. However, as the population grows and becomes more accustomed to various influences, it begins to impact how we identify and define ourselves within the community. Is it enough to just be Latina, Hispanic or Chicana anymore? What does it really mean to be Latina anyway?
My Journey to Self–Identification
As a native New Yorker, I walked in a sea of diversity everyday. It was second nature for me to associate flags, accents, and language to their respective countries. I personally identified as Dominican and Puerto Rican or Dominiriqueña or Dominirican (or whatever combination my friends and I came up with that day). I never really had to confront my heritage or ethnicity because everyone was used to everyone. That all changed when I moved across the country to attend college.
I moved to Los Angeles in 2004 to start my Freshman year at LMU. I felt homesick and lonely being practically the only Dominiriqueña from New York on campus. I yearned for someone who could understand me, my accent, my craving for tostones, concon, and queso frito without having to explain. On and off campus I was constantly questioned, defined, and boxed into an identity that wasn’t me at all. One day, I reached a point where I was so sick and tired, I retaliated by introducing myself like, “Hi, I’m Ariana from New York and I’m Dominican and Puerto Rican. Anything else you want to know?” That shut them up pretty fast. I began to obsess about making sure everyone just who I was; I blasted merengue in my car, I bought D.R & P.R. flags and put them in my car on the walls in my dorm,my laptop and on my notebooks. Six years later, I’m used to the questions, the looks of surprise when I (try) to speak Spanish, I took down most of my flags and I don’t introduce myself like that anymore. Within that time, beaten down by the ignorance, I tried multiple ID’s on for size, Caribbean Latina, just Latina, just Dominican, just Puerto Rican and now Black Latina. I chose Black Latina for various reasons but before I do that, I want to define it in my own words.
I learned while filling out the Census last year that Latino and Hispanic are not a race but an ethnicity. ‘Hmmm, Okay,’ I thought, so now I had to figure out what I considered myself racially. Now, I can get really technical based on Spanish Caribbean history and mark either European Spanish, Native Taíno, African/Black and technically, I am a mixture of all three! However, I chose Black Latina (sometimes I say Afro-Latina too) to pay homage to my African ancestors (I want to be very clear that Black is a color and not a race and it is not limited to African Americans). Being a liberal studies major, I became super sensitive to the plight of the oppressed and so I chose to side with them. Black Latina was also was the best description for my experiences. I always hung around and dated Black people (Not just African Americans but also West Indians who would consider themselves black but also identify their ethnicity with their country of origin). Sometimes I felt I was too Black for the Spanish people and too Spanish for the Black people, but I learned to adapt by just being Ariana and not my cultural or racial identity.
I’ve come to learn that identity is a part of you are not your whole. It, combined with other categories such as class, sexual orientation, educated, gender, religion, all encompass who you are as an individual. So what does being Latina really mean? Is it defined by behaviors and stereotypes? Can it even be defined by the community? Is it everything and nothing at all? I say it’s whatever you want it to be. What is your ID?