I was accompanied by my sister-in-law and one of my best friends to a Latin music event, in attendance was an International mix of people. It was beautiful to see so many diverse people come together to celebrate one common interest. The love, joy, appreciation for Latin music and its culture filled the air and created a lovely ambiance. As we were setting up our booth for social interaction with the attendees, we were asked “where we were from?” We answered, from “the Dominican Republic”. The person asking the question was a Latino male, who was of fair skin complexion. He responded, “ok, I figured that you both were (my sister-in-law and best friend) and proceeded to say “you two look Dominican but he said “I didn’t look Dominican at all.” He then began to speak in Spanish as if I was not able to understand. I graciously answered him in Spanish with my Dominican accent and said yes, I was from the Dominican Republic and thanked him for the compliment that he had paid our country and people. He furthered said “he was surprised to find out that I was Latina.”
He might have been surprised but unfortunately I was not. I’m not surprised I get this all the time. It doesn’t bother me unless the individual has a disappointed reaction. When I say disappointed I mean when it is conveyed through their amazed bugged out eyes with an open-mouth utter shock! Now that’s annoying! Yes, we all look different but no one wants to feel like a science project or feel ostracized. I don’t expect for all individuals that I meet or run into to know everything about me however I do expect a certain amount of common courtesy that usually is learned as we are young children. Have you not ever been taught by your mother or guardian, that if you see something or learn something that is different or shocking to you be careful how you respond because you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable due to your lack of awareness, others may call it plain “Ignorance”. I have had this discussion before with people and I am always asked, if I have become too sensitive? Or could I be overacting because I have a complex?
My response, “No”, I’m not extra sensitive or have a complex but I unfortunately I have had many different experiences where people have attempted to ostracize me. For instance, the experience I mentioned earlier at the Latin festival. The individual who was curious about our background and probably because he was questioning in his mind whether we belonged there or not attempted to exclud me by speaking Spanish. When I answered him in Spanish his unforeseen look was priceless. He had nothing to say but accept what was going on. This experience is only one of many that I have had in my many blessed years of life.
My challenge to you all particularly parents are you making a conscious effort to teach your children or others common courtesy? Awareness about differences? Making sure your children are having a real world view experience? (I don’t mean inviting your black friend from work home for dinner). Black Latina Negra Bella is dedicated to making Black Latinas included and celebrated along with all other Latinas. How do we begin to do this in our community if we are not having the conversation at home? We have to make an effort to consciously learn all of our history as well as practice and extend common courtesy to all people. You can’t be selective on who you extend courtesy too based on race, ethnicity or religion. Remember if you know your history and understand it you will realize that any other conduct is one associated with inferiority rather than superiority. Know your history!
By, Dania Peguero, LMSW, EdS.