As an Afro-Latina growing up in the United States, I would describe myself as being “Ni de aqui, ni de alla” — “Not from here (the states), or from there (my homeland).” This common phrase is shared by many in the Hispanic community who have felt the tension of belonging in a bi-cultural context. From carrying the rich history of my ancestors to navigating the complexities of life in the states, this feeling of displacement shows up in our history and lived experiences.
In Florida, Hispanics struggle daily with racism and colorism within our own communities. This is especially true for darker-skin Afro-Latinos who experience the anti-Black societal pressures of phrases like “Hay que mejorar la raza” or “We must improve (our) race” by marrying lighter-skin folks, straightening our hair, and embracing American beauty standards. The harmful impact of these cultural norms often leaves the Afro-Latino community frustrated, ignored, and erased from the Hispanic diaspora.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I am sharing my poem, “Soy un Inmigrante,” in which I capture a glimpse of the struggle, the fears, and exhaustion that comes with immigrating to the United States and the tension that exists between assimilation and self-worth.
Soy Un Inmigrante (adapted)
In 1825, my Spanish and Portuguese side
stole my ancestors off the coast of Africa and begin their stride
Through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
For months, I wondered if my ancestors thought of jumping ships,
Swimming back to the home they knew.
Before they’d be forced to crop sugarcane as slaves on the island Hispanola.
Inside I wondered if their hearts ever cried, “home.”
In 1925, mi familia immigrated to Washington heights.
Yeah that's right, like "In the Heights,"
And it was alright.
But do you know what it's like to have to immigrate twice? Just to survive?
Do you know what it's like to speak a language that taught tu Madre, tu Tio, y tu Abuelo how to assimilate?
my Abuela still gets hate.
Do you know what it's like to be a walking symbol of—
“You don't belong here."
"Where are you from?"
"What are you mixed with?"
To recite a whole history lesson on the pain of your existence.
To be both Caribbean slave and European slave owner.
To wear your papers on your tongue, just in case someone asks you where you really from.
Ready to carry all the documents you own just to show proof that you have a home.
Waiting for ICE to knock down your door, clutching those papers from '94.
To be a foreigner to your own people because of your hair and fractured Spanish.
See, when English was taught to me, my curls vanished,
Relaxed out of me for my survival.
Do you know what it's like to be an immigrant?
Something stolen from you so you can reshape, conform to a new space.
Forced to belong to a place that only wants you for your food.
I only know the history is assimilated from,
raised by an immigrant,
I see the strength of our ancestors in her eyes,
The kind that tells me to “fly mi bandera with pride.”
So we may come from suffering and pain, but we are not shamed.
No, we have a name.
Many names that honor the immigrants who have gone before us,
That pay tribute to their journeys, sus cuentas, y sus memorias.
So to be an immigrant is all these things and more,
but let me try to sum it up for you and a line or two.
Soy Jennifer Ageda Garcia Reyes Rosado de la Republica Dominicana
Y Yo Soy un Inmigrante.