Self-Learning by Jelisa Robinson

It all started with Omar in the fifth grade and progressed with Carlos, Miguel and others.  I wasn’t fast; I was just captured.  Captivated by a language I did not speak. Intrigued by the new sounds that made the world sound more beautiful.  I wanted to be a part of it.  I wanted to be a part of that world.

In a sense I am a part of it.  A third culture kid navigating spaces where my face isn’t as widely represented as I think it should be.  But I know who I am.  I am an African American, Black, colored, morena, negrita girl with an affinity for Latin culture, a membership in a Latina sorority and a passion for Black Latino issues.

In the nineth grade, I was walking to the table of my friends who were Latino and I heard “Here comes the black girl.” They didn’t say it in a flattering way either.   At the time, I was a bit hurt.  How could this group of people who I called my friends say something like that.  I mean I am morena but this was no Celia Cruz la-negra-tiene-tumbao moment.  They were singling me out.  Asking why this intruder was coming over to their table.  My friend Debbie stood up for me and I will never ever forget that.  She told them that what they said was offensive and she took me for a walk.

I experienced this on both sides of the sphere.  African American friends and classmates called me a wanna-be-mexican.  Years ago, they were calling me a wanna-be-white-girl.  I now realize it wasn’t that they hated me, it was that it’s human nature to want to put someone in a box and when you can’t place them it’s frustrating. Even I am guilty of wanting to place or figure out people, if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be writing this reflection right now.

Blackness, for me, doesn’t follow a straight line.  It varies.  It’s a plethora of languages, experiences and people.  In college, I came into my own about a year ago.  While working at the New Black Student Weekend, I identified with the theme of creating your own path and story at the University as a Black student.

A light bulb moment!

As a Black person, I have been creating my own path and while it may cause folks to question my “validity” or ask “why you speaking spanish?”, to them I answer…why not?   Being able to speak Spanish and having an interest in Afro-Latinidad puts me at a unique angle in life.  I am able to connect with my brothers and sisters of African descent from all over the Latin American Diaspora.  To understand our differences but also how we are the same.  I am  African American…say it loud I’m Black and I’m proud.  Like Phylicia Rashad and other African Americans before me, I learned a language that has taken a life all its own. That’s the beauty of learning languages and cultures…you start out learning about other folk but then end up learning about yourself.

– Jelisa Jay Robinson

Jelisa Jay Robinson is the founder and blogger of Black Girl, Latin World. Black Girl, Latin World is a blog that is dedicated to the experiences of Afro-Latinos, African Americans who speak Spanish and bridging the gap between Black and Latino communities. 

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