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The complexties of being Afro-Latina in the South

Two years in and I’m still on fire on broadening the visibility of Afro-Latinos in mainstream media. Is it always easy? “No”, worth it? “Yes!” You see, as a mother, daughter, sister, educator, conscious woman, entrepreneur, leader, private citizen and change agent, I am compelled to make a contribution to this world. Ghandi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Well, I'm being that change, but how do I continue to hold on while the very people I need to convince that an accurate representation of Latinas is in direct correlation to one’s development of a positive self-image, don’t seem to have the same level of intellectual sophistication needed to have that dialogue? To make matters even more complex, I live down south…the Deep South.  Where ethnic categories are tightly narrowed by three main categories not because of lack of multicultural representation but because of lack of interest in ethnicity. Not black enough for Black Americans and not Latina enough for Latinos, the usually dilemma but living down south it’s a totally different experience. Now, you have to add a layer of choosing between the narrow strict categories I mentioned, you are either, White, Black, Mexican or conforming to what is expected of you based on aesthetics.

Keeping the conversation alive is part of the activism that goes along with change. The challenges that Afro-Latinas experience are never short of none. In fact they don’t diminish based on your level of education or surroundings. The curiosity and misconceptions are always present and experienced through discrimination, rejection or Self-Identity issues. So, the conversation must go on so we can EMPOWER one another and dispel the myths, misconceptions and the behaviors that separate communities rather than uplift and unify people.

How do we contest the challenges? First of all, by identifying them. Acknowledging an issue rather than brushing it under the rug gives itself an opportunity to change the status quo.  Let’s look at some of the challenges.

 Co-Founder, Dania Peguero before a panel discussion.

Co-Founder, Dania Peguero before a panel discussion.

One of the biggest challenges is the lack of VISIBILITY. When I was growing up I felt invisible, the images I saw of Latinas whether on television or magazines never looked like me. They were often images of woman who had European features, (i.e., lighter skin and long silky hair). Because I didn’t look like this I felt ugly and wanted to alter my look whether it was chemically processing my hair or lightening my skin (how many of you remember (Crema Santa)?  For a long time I didn’t realize that those images were impacting my perception of beauty. My failed attempts towards beautification forced me on a road that lead to my self-discovery of my true identity as an Afro-Latina. Thank God, I became enlightened of who I am by gaining more knowledge on my history and truth. Don’t cut yourself short, expand your knowledge it’s the only way to the truth and living an enriched life.

The second challenge is feeling confident enough to EMERGE yourself in a community that often neglects that you exist. It takes courage to BOLDLY take a stand to represent yourself among people who may reject you based on aesthetics and deny you your culture and heritage. Being able to accept yourself and own your classic beauty. Not an easy task but it feels good to represent your authentic self all the time.

And lastly, another challenge is learning to EMBRACE YOUR AFRO-Latinidad when often it is taught to reject it by your community that you love and adore. Having to constantly defend my Latino identity. If I speak Spanish people wonder how I learned to speak so well and fluently. If I wear my hair natural without chemically processing it then I’m being accused of being “too black.”  Is there every a happy median? It’s no longer for you to have to negotiate that, just be you!

 So what steps should we take towards Self-Empowerment and Self-Confidence? You may be struggling with some things that you don’t like about yourself. We all do but there is a lot of right with you.  It's never too late to start loving yourself!

1.     QUIT focusing on what you don’t like and focus on what you do. Taking a Self-Inventory of what you do like.

2.     DAILY AFFIRMATIONS remind yourself of what you have to offer and remember to use POSITIVE LANGUAGE because it affects your behavior.

3.     INCREASE YOUR KNOWLEDGE, the more you know about your heritage and culture the better a person you will be to yourself and others. This is how you begin to Increase your SELF-WORTH.

Whether we realize it or not, the images, portrayals and lifestyles in mainstream media has a profound effect on our self-image. Particularly for our youth who are discovering their self-identity. The linear standard of beauty creates false perceptions of self which lead to unattainable goals that equates to low self-esteem. Instead let’s celebrate the diversity within the Latino community and Embrace all Classic beauty, Cultures, Heritage, Skin tones, Hair Textures, and Language! There is NO one standard form of beauty. All women are their own classic beauty.

So what have learned in the past two years? That Change will happen with persistence and patience. You must not give up on good work. So, I continue to blog, facilitate workshops, participate on panel discussions, launch visible social media campaigns, write, serve as an advocate for change and creator of empowerment opportunities.

By, Dania Peguero, LMSW, EdS.