“But you’re Not Black!”
That is often the response I get when people that know I’m Puerto Rican hear my poetry or hear me speak about how comfortable I am embracing my African culture.
It’s true, I’m not African American, and truth be told, if you took away my ethnicity- Hispanic/Latina- I’m a mix of black, white, and native Taino. I do carry African blood. My mother is mulatto, like me, she’s mixed with African (.24% Nigerian, in fact, according to her Ancestry test) and Taino, which is the name of the native people of the Island and European and my father is white (Puerto Rican) with a long family history going all the way back to Portugal.
We, Puerto Ricans, are called the Rainbow people, and I tease people when I say I have my own rainbow tribe; each of my lovely daughters is a different, but beautiful hue. Interestingly, my oldest daughter, which is very fair-skinned, doesn’t claim to be anything but human. If you ask her, she knows very little about our cultural history, she’s been taught, but she’s forgotten. Next to her, I appear almost radical, but I admire her approach to life. It’s really very beautiful.
To be around her, you get a sense of how God would like us to be – especially in the church- just loving and accepting of others for who they are and not where they come from. Whenever you see her, she’s got a beaming smile on her face. and I don’t think you’ll ever hear ask the words “where are you from?” She just takes people as they come. If I say to her, “Hey did you know such and such is from…”, say, “Jamaica”, her response is usually, “Oh really?”, not that she doesn’t care, but it really doesn’t make a difference her in her approach toward that person.
Her approach is very different from mine. I’ve experienced discrimination from many angles: from the time I was born when my grandmother on my father’s side initially rejected me because I was “black,” to girls wanting to fight me in school because they thought I was half white and lying about being Puerto Rican. Even when I came to the South, it was because I was from the North, a New Yorker, no less. Then, finally when I came to church… let’s just say it was apparent I didn’t fit in.
My approach is to take my experiences and integrate them into my art and poetry. I paint Island women in different skin shades to show we come in all colors and that we resemble the general population. I use my poetry as a bridge to connect experiences between the races. My goal is to acknowledge differences, share them, understand them and then explore the similarities, but my daughter chooses a different route altogether; she chooses instead to approach people as if they all are like her, human, and in love with the Lord.
I love that idea.
I’m all for expressing cultural and national pride, but what if we approached each other another way? So many of us get so bound up in our cultural pride – ‘I’m a Puerto Rican’, ‘I’m a New Yorker!’, ‘I’m American!’ – I know I do. However, I’m sure there are no special sections in Heaven. I doubt we’ll get inside the Pearly Gates and God asking, “Would you rather be over here with the Puerto Ricans, or would you prefer to live in the “Chinatown” section?” No, I’m sure what we’ll experience in Heaven is exactly what He’d like to see us do here: people loving and embracing each other, as is, as beautifully, wonderfully human.
So, let’s go have some beautifully human experiences, today!