Embracing My Afro-Latinx Identity is Helping Me Raise Confident Kids
Growing up I couldn't wait until the Fourth of July. Each year our family, along with what felt like every other Panamanian person in the city, would go to our local park in Long Beach, California to eat, drink, and be loud! Independence Day may have been an American holiday but us Panamanians embraced it as a time to reunite and it was everything. Even hearing the elders loudly say "!Ayala Vida!" (that's awful) in one of the best Caribbean accents was a beautiful and familiar sound. I belonged, I felt safe, and most importantly everyone looked Afro-Latinx like me.
But everything changed for me at the age of 10 when we moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. I learned pretty quickly that even though there were people in town who looked like me, I was different. I was the Black girl with "good hair" who talked funny. The girl who had a mom who spoke very little English.
Inside our home, we watched telenovelas, ate arroz con pollo, and listened to salsa music. Outside of our home, though? We just tried our best to fit in.
It was hard for me to explain my cultural identity because no one had ever asked me to explain it before and there weren't any Afro-Latinx people in the media I felt I could relate to. At one point I remember one of my mother's friends asking her why I didn't speak Spanish. Her response was "porque le da pena." Basically saying I was embarrassed. And I was. Though, not embarrassed by her or our culture, it was more so this feeling that I was on display as "the little Black girl that could speak Spanish" that created discomfort.
This is also when an identity shift started happening within my family too. It seemed the longer I spent away from my cousins who lived back in California, the more I started feeling disconnected from my Panamanian culture. And even when I did get to see them they would often make jokes about me sounding "country." It was then that I began questioning my Latinidad. How was I supposed to prove myself to them? And why?
As I got older I had to do my part in educating myself on my history. So as soon as I got to college I decided it was time to take control of my own narrative— it helped that my roommate was a Black Boriqua who was also named Kisha! I was no longer the little girl being asked to speak on command. Now when I spoke I did so because I wanted to. Being away from my mother also made me appreciate all of the sacrifices she made for me. I started understanding her struggles a little bit more and now that I'm a mother it's come full circle.
Years later staying connected to my roots has allowed me to pass down my culture to my sons, 3-years-old and 5. Food is one of my favorite ways to share our heritage—eating arroz con pollo guisao with savory patacones and sweet maduros (yes, I want both!), or hojaldra (fry bread) for breakfast—and upholding holidays like Afro-descendant day every August and Panamanian Mother's Day in December are other ways I'm instilling pride. I want them to embrace every part of themselves and don't want my children to ever feel as conflicted as I did growing up.
As an Afro-Latinx family I know that it's also my job as a parent to empower them in their Blackness, advocate for them, and to teach them to defy any stereotypes. Showing them Black role models, reading them books they can identify with, and using empowering language are just a few ways. They don't need to prove anything to anyone. That was something I personally didn't learn until much later in life but thankfully my experiences don't need to be theirs. My hope is that instead of trying to fit into some boxes other people created, I'll impart enough confidence in them that they feel proud in their own identity no matter what room they are in.