EMELY RIJO — “Did you say you’re Latina?” Woman 1 said confused.
“Yes, I…” I said softly (As I was interrupted).
“She said, she is Black” Woman 2 said louder.
When one does not look the typical white, blond, people always seem intrigued to know about your identity. As a Dominican who migrated to the United States five years ago, I have faced many challenges when trying to say where I come from. Many seem hard to believe that I do not identify myself as Black. Americans see people from other countries in a “binary colored fashion” that is either Black or White. This is where many immigrants’ conflicts begin when living in the United States. Throughout the Dominican Republic’s history race was not necessarily defined. Meanwhile, in the United States, due to multiple historical events where African Americans have been marginalized, the race has played a big role in American society. Due to identities’ differences between these two countries, there is a lack of understanding Dominicans’ position in terms of race and skin color. The reason why many Dominicans choose not to identify as “Black” is because they were taught to identify differently even though many Dominicans have African ancestry. This is something that is not well understood in the United States because the American system does not necessarily value the terms used by the Dominicans. Instead, the American system tries to force Dominicans along with other Latinos to fit into these categories that many do not feel identified with.
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, these were some of the few words Dominicans use instead of calling themselves Black: they identified as indíos (meaning dark skin), taínos (an indigenous group), blancos (Whites) mestizo (a mixture of two races) or mulato (a mixture of white and black). Nevertheless, when Dominicans migrate to the United States, they start to perceive a new perspective of what race and ethnicity are. Americans have the belief that if one does not look white enough then one is considered black. The United States system has a binary spectrum of putting people in. Dominicans as well as Puerto Ricans struggle with the racial concepts there is in the United States because when filling out forms or the census they are required to choose a race that does not pertain to them. Sometimes applications do not even give one the option to not choose a race if they feel like none of the ones above represent them. Automatically, putting Dominicans and other Latinos in a complicated position because many do not even know what to pick since they are not used to identifying themselves with race terms.
I remember the time I arrived at my new high school that my father made me fill out some papers the school required, one of the questions was asking my race. I automatically selected White because one: it only gave me the option for a race, not an ethnicity, and two: It did not have anything that related to me, so I thought, “Maybe it’s simply asking for my skin color because in the Dominican Republic I am considered white.” Then, my father saw I had chosen white as my race and he said that it was not right, because in the United States system uses White as a race rather than a way to identify in terms of skin color or ethnicity. So, I had to get up and tell the lady that I was a Latina and that it was not a race but an ethnicity. She looked at me and said, “Well, you have to fill out what it is closest to you.” What was that supposed to mean? Later on, I realized that the United States has a different system of identifying Latinos migrants. Specially Dominicans, who have a different way of identifying. In a country that is full of immigrants, the American system seems to have a lack of understanding of the way many Dominicans identify as. Which has created conflicts with other minority groups that do not understand either the Dominicans’ history and rather disrespect Dominicans’ identity by putting a label. Understanding Dominicans’ history is just one way of understanding many other Latinos’ issues when it comes to race and ethnicity.
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