On being (Afro) Latina in the South

Photo by: a untrained eye, Creative Commons.

In a world full of fried chicken and cornbread, it’s hard to be lechon and black beans.

 
Yes, I used a food reference to compare being Latina in the South. It was the only way I could think to communicate how its like to be in a place like northern Louisiana when you’re more like a Caribbean sunset.
 
There I go again. Let me explain before the metaphors take over.
 
My longtime blog readers know two things about me (among several). One, I am Latina though I don’t write about it as often as I would like. Two, I live in the South. I like living here though it is difficult being different in a land of relative sameness. I love that it’s 80 degrees today and in Washington D.C., where I will be tonight, it will be in the lower 60s.
 
But rarely do I write about both. I figured it would be better to stick to being a writer and a writing blogger. However, since I expanded the scope of this blog to include my writing life, this is fair game. You remember what I’ve said about truth and writing, right? 
 
Being Latina in the South ain’t an easy thing, home skillet.
 
While the Latino community is the fastest growing segment of the population, it isn’t growing everywhere in the South. In north Louisiana, there are Latinos. I see them in the grocery stories and at Wal Mart but not in large enough numbers to feel comfortable. Not like Houston though I know that’s not a far comparison. I have another. In Wichita, Kansas, the Latino population is growing. When I lived there, I was slightly more comfortable being Latina–I was part of the local MANA group, I had (have) Latina friends, and I had my favorite spot to go if I was a bit home sick.
 
The midwest and parts of the South are the new frontier of Latino growth. And by new I mean newer. That frontier was fresh-out-the-box new five years ago. But Shreveport is not Wichita, or Atlanta, or New Orleans or any other major southern or midwestern city where growth is measured by the new Mexican restaurant down the street. There are only three race/ethnic categories in North Louisiana: black, white, and everybody else. Where do I rank?
 
Now this is where it gets, for lack of a better word, interesting–the Afro part.  I am Afro Latina. That means my hair curls into a kink. My skin is dark. My lips are full. That means, when I walk out the door every day I have to make the transformation from Latina to black.
 
In the South, both new and old, I am a black woman. That means I  have inherited a past, a stereotype, and a point of view that is not my own.  My ancestors were never slaves in North America (Central and the Caribbean, yes) and I don’t always want to eat fried chicken (neither do black folks but the stereotype is still there).  That means I also have to work twice as hard to prove myself equal. When I am pulled over, I will always have to wonder was it because I did something wrong or because I am darker than the person pulling me over. There are parts of the area where I don’t travel to after dark.
 
These realities we not completely strange. There are part of Houston I don’t drive to at night. That’s simply because it’s dangerous. I did work twice as hard in Houston, yes. That’s because I had something to prove to myself, not because I wanted to disprove a stereotype. When I’m pulled over in Houston, I know why.  I’m not saying Houston is a utopia, far from it. It’s different, that’s all.
 
The stereotypes that I now live with were not things I dealt with when I thought I was colorless. These things are now my reality as an Afro Latina in the South.
 
It would be easier to just assume my role as a black woman and melt into the background. Yes, it would be easier but it would be lie. I am black and Latina. I can’t accept one and deny the other simply because others choose to put me in a context they understand or refused to expand beyond their personal borders.
 
So, I eat cornbread and fried chicken, which thankfully I like. I each smothered pork chops and red beans and rice like I’ve always had it. I melt in just enough until I come home and lose myself in a world of salsa music and novelas.  I adjust and readjust, constantly balancing between perception and reality.
 

A balancing act. This is what it’s like to be (Afro) Latina in the South.

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