Amara La Negra is who I wish I had spent the entire 41 years of my existence being, and not just the last 21 years learning to love.
I have seen the snippets from the reality television show she is on. I heard the promoter, producer, or whomever he was tell her that she should be more Bey and less Macy and that he would never be able to produce or sell her as she was. I see the phenotypically Latina Veronica Vega as a benefactor of this producer. In his words, I smelled the heat from weekly blow-outs and chemical straighteners I would graduate to as a teen. I heard my grandmother admonishing us girls to stay out of the sun, as we were already dark enough and did not need to add to that. (I can even admit to now making my 11-year-old son put on extra sunscreen in the summer or sometimes frowning if I am in a room and what my subconscious mind perceives as ‘too much sun’ touches my forearms.)
As one of the darkest in my little Dominican family, and the one who presented with the most clearly African phenotype, that producer sent me to a sadder time in my life, when I did not love and did not feel loved for what I looked like. But Amara made me smile the smile I smile when I speak of my Afro-Latinidad now.
Understanding my family’s anti-Blackness meant understanding that their responses were the result of exposure to political and societal anti-blackness. The easiest choice for them was to say ‘we are not the thing people hate.’ And now, Amara La Negra has said, ‘Oh, but I am the thing you hate, and that won’t diminish the love I have for myself.’
Ase, Amara La Negra. Ase, ‘manita.
I emigrated to the United States in 1982. I was six.
I spoke no English when I came—and I was designated Black. We didn’t understand the kids or families we lived around. The kids and families we lived around didn’t understand how we looked like them, but spoke Spanish. I gained Blackness during a time that I had been taught to lose Blackness. I wore it like wool; I am allergic. I’d scream “I’m NOT Black—I’m DOMINICAN!’ to anyone who would dare to say that I was as they were. As I grew older, and my experiences broadened to understand that I could be both Black and Latina, yet it is sobering to see that even in 2018, the world hasn’t quite caught up to this concept.
“If you don’t look a certain type of way…it’s almost impossible to be taken seriously.” Amara makes this assertion on the sneak preview of LHHMIA, and I will further assert that whether you are an entertainer, work in retail or the food industry, are a CEO of somebody’s Fortune 500, or even a little old math teacher from Hartford, CT like me, if you do not fit the phenotypical Latina model, nobody is looking twice at you. You are just a ‘regular, degular, schmegular’ (shouts to Cardi B) Black girl. I don’t look like anything that people don’t see every day and dismiss for being too dark or having hair that misbehaves beautifully in the key of 4c. (!!!)
Amara goes to meet with this Young Hollywood character fully dressed in her love for herself, draped proudly and unapologetic in Blackness, and as soon as he sees her, it begins. This man, himself a Latino who I would consider more trigueño than rubio, and would probably have to listen to prattle on about how he ‘isn’t that dark’ were I in his company for longer than twenty-seven seconds, is immediately about the business of not taking her seriously. Her hair is deemed inelegant. She’s forcing her Blackness into the conversation. She’s too rough. The whole “afro” in “Afro-Latina” is too much. It’s not palatable because like most of the world, young Hollywood never intended to digest Blackness without indigestion and he certainly never intended to digest it paired on a plate with Latin culture.
Amara La Negra has inspired me to take yet another long, hard look at how I saw myself as a child and how I may still see myself as an adult woman. I speak a lot about Black girls and how we are magic, but I don’t know if I always see that magic in myself. I know that as brilliant and bright as I am, folks are looking at me, and sometimes their decisions are based solely on what they see. I know that I have been passed over for someone who is deemed a better fit for the face of an organization or group and I know some of that has had to do with people not understanding intersections, or, in some cases, flat out refusing to believe that groups of people like me, diasporan Africans who speak Spanish, are even real.
This is of particularly side-eye-worthy note to me because any sentient sack of meat with a smartphone and a library card can find out that there were over 11 million Africans who survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World, and that out of that number, only 450,000 came to the United States. (how you think we not real, tho?) Still, some of it is about not wanting a Black face to be at the front of much of anything. Like Amara La Negra, I refuse to believe in my invisibility. And I certainly refuse to believe that I am less than anyone else.
Se que soy tambien. Negra. Latina.