Dear Young Writer who appropriates my Afro Latina culture with reckless abandon.
I’m writing this open letter because maybe, just may be, you’ll read it. Or maybe someone you know will read it and guide you to it. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear me and my fellow Afro-Latino sisters and brothers.
Recently, you received an email that called you out on the things you’ve been doing. How do I know? Me vinieron con el chisme. (Google that). The beautiful letter was from a good friend with a good heart who cared enough to call you out on something. It wasn’t a yes person or an enabler. It was a person who was rightfully challenging you. They were challenging you because they heard YOUR name from someone’s mouth who was angry at you. They were angry at you because you use an identity that didn’t belong to you.
You used the Afro-Latin@ identity. That’s not cool. Not even a bit.
This is the part of the letter where you will decide to stop reading. This is where you will get defensive. Stop. Let me teach you. Let me teach you how to be a better ally. Let me teach you how to be a better friend. Let me teach you how to be a better artist.
I’ll start with some concessions. I understand the appeal of being Afro-Latin@. On the surface it’s the best of both worlds. The Afro, direct from the motherland, with all the joy and pain and sorrow and trauma that comes with it. The Latino — the indigenous, the Spaniard, the language of colonizers and of love (interesting, no?).
Together, this is a beautiful culture that is overlooked, ridiculed, and made pillaged continuously. Don’t believe me?
When was the last time you saw a leading lady in a novela who wasn’t a slave, or maid, or subordinate therefore erasing us from stories?
Whenever you see a tango, do you see the African in that?
When you are looked at my people — black, brown, white — when Spanish comes out of your mouth as fluent as English, how do YOU recover from that micro-agression?
Have you explained your existence, literally schooled people on why you actually exist in life?
You may want to talk about the recent novela of Celia as an example of progression, that Afro-Latino stories are being told. Okay, look up who wrote the novela. Look up who produced the stage play, playwright.
Young writer, if no one has said this then I will. You are not Afro-Latina. You are black.
So when our “distant cousin” does something similar to what our victimizers and oppressors have been doing all along — telling our stories, presenting herself as Afro-Latina (even if it’s not said and only implied in passing), and occupying the space that we have fought so hard to carve out for ourselves — that’s when I have to question how much you love my culture. How much do you respect it? Or has it become your meal ticket?
Cultural appropriation is when someone from one culture picks and chooses elements from another culture to use in whatever why they choose.
Do you know what negra means? What it ACTUALLY means? Not what Google translate says it means. Negra means open welts from leather (if we’re lucky) whips. Negra is the fetishizing of bodies because “black girls do it better”, because we’re “exotic”, because raping one isn’t the same as raping a white woman. Negra means property. Negra means on the bottom of the shoe. Negra means that the music passed down from Africa, the rhythms, and the dancing, and the lyrics, are now no longer ours. It is repackaged and branded as some thing. Zumba is all the rage for someone looking to get fit. For Negras, it’s how we kept connected to homeland shores when they were oceans away.
Why do you want to continue this cycle? Why do you want to hurt us this way if you love us so much?
There is pain when I think of you. When I see you call yourself Negra Americana. When you don’t correct people who assume you are Afro-Latina (those same people, by the way, call the people you just blocked from your social media to check on your credibility, by the way). You stand in spaces where an AfroLatin@ should have stood, but instead you are there because people have assumed you are part of the culture. That, “negra”, no se hace.
Sometimes there are places and things and experiences that don’t belong to you. Learn to recognize that.
There is pain when I think that you are telling my story instead of me. I wonder if it’s accurate. Are you taking pieces of my world because you can? How much of it is you? How much of it is me? When you talk to me or other AfroLatin@s is it advocacy or research?
Young writer, how are you different than Rachel Dolezal?
I stopped talking to you. I choose not to engage. I had hoped that would have stopped the cycle of your appropriation. But then I saw how you responded when the people who believed in you checked you, as they should. Let’s just say that I hope you got a good discount on that kerosene you used to torch those bridges. Let’s also just say those bridges go beyond those three people you just hurt.
This is the part, I imagine, you will say something delusional like “if I have a good heart I’ll be okay” or how God has your back or that I’m hating. I’m not one to knock down anyone’s religion. I mean, do you, but I do know this. God sends you messages through people. He stirs people to action, to movement, when something isn’t right or if there’s a lesson you have to learn. THAT’S how God has your back.
So, why aren’t you listening?
I’ll leave you with that question to ponder. Or maybe not. Obviously, if you were listening I wouldn’t have needed to write this letter.