Celebrating The Latina Woman

I had the honor & privilege to interview two beautiful Latina women. Both ladies exude the essence of beauty and brains. DioMara & Marissa took the time to talk to me and opened about their heritage and culture. They discussed colorism, racism and the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month. DioMara and Marissa also, explained some misconceptions others might have on the Latina woman here in America.

1. What are some misconceptions about the Latina woman in America?

DioMara–  That we all look the same. The reason we are called Latin American is because of the region. Not every country is the same. The misconception is that we are all the same. Phenotypically and racially. That we are all mixed or have curly hair. People think that we are not Black. Latin American people can be of any race. It has not been accepted yet across the country that we can be any race.

A few years ago I was not using Afro Latino. I thought it was a known thing that Latinos can be black or any other race.

Marissa– Especially now with race relations and the political environment it is the variety of races within that category. Many people are use to the whitewashed version. We are an array of colors and diverse. We are across spectrum. Because there is so much diversity in race. There is a lot of races within one family. The makeup of being Latino is a mixture of races. You have Afro Latinos. You have Euro Latinos. Mixture of Native and Indigenous. Usually a Latino family is diverse. My brother looks more mixed. And I look more European.

It is more than then white or black. You can have one sibling that looks European and the other looks more black. My mom and her sister are full blown Colombian. My Tia looks more Native. And my mom looks more mixed and looks more Afro Latina.

2. Where are you from? Where is your family from?

 DioMara – So my family is all Panamanians they like to say West Indian Panamanians.

Marissa– I am a first generation American. Both of my parents are Colombian. They are from a city called Medellín.

3. Have you endured racism? Where do you and your family stand when it comes to racism in America?

DioMara – I have had micro aggressions. I spend a lot of time with black people. I choose to be around black people. So I don’t experience a lot of racism. Even in high school I hung out with West Indians even more so than other Latin Americans like Puerto Ricans. I felt like I wouldn’t be completely accepted so I stuck around people that I felt accepted by. When people see me they see a black woman.

We stand in the thick of it. My parents went out to protest for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. My mom is VP of faculty at Columbia University. She co-leads a group that helps and regulates to make sure people are treated fairly. It’s kind of like diversity inclusion. We are very much a part of it. My father is black my brother is black. People don’t ask us what our nationality is before they see us as black. We walk this earth as black people so it’s our issue.

Marissa– When my mom came to the US that is when she dealt with racism. When they were in Colombia they did not really deal with racism. There is a level of colorism in Colombia but not as much in America.

When people call me anything other than Latina I can be offended. Even though I can be on the lighter spectrum it’s offensive because they are taking away my mom’s side of the family. America wants to put Latinos in a box. I am a category of other. My makeup is more than just white or black. Claiming one thing is erasing the other race.

I experienced racism very young at 10-years-old. I do continue to face it. I don’t say mines is as much as most people. At 10-years-old my parents wanted us to be raised in the suburbs. In New York when we moved, the neighbors told their kids that they did not want them to play with Puerto Ricans. West Chester is a suburban area but we were more on the poorer side. We were dealing with classism and we were one of the few Latino families. I didn’t understand that being Colombian didn’t matter and it was looked as the same as Puerto Rican. My parents did not want us to forget about Colombia. My mom wanted us to be proud because she was put into a category because she was more mixed looking.

We always knew the difference between us being Latin and White Americans. My family is vocal. The Civil Rights movement gave us a lot of rights. We wouldn’t have the right to rent. The Black Lives Matter movement is a part of us as well. I have had to educate my parents because they were born and raised in Colombia so they didn’t understand a lot about the Civil Rights Movement here in America. My parents were able to use government assistance. We stand with the movement.

4. Do you feel as if Latin America is under represented? If yes, how? Or Do you think there has been major progression when it comes to representation in business, entertainment, education and healthcare? Do you feel as if Hispanic Heritage month is important here in America?

DioMara – I think it varies by industry. If I were to stick to the industry I know. We have our own divisions like the Grammys. To be perfectly honest I do think there is a lot of representation. Are there people being discriminated against, absolutely. Different things do happen behind closed doors but I feel like we have done a great job creating our own tables.

If we break it down racially, black people across the board need more representation and visibility. Especially black Latinas. Like Amara La Negra has been questioned if she is Latina because she looks black. We do not all share the same experience. Like Sofía Vergara is the highest paid actress. She benefits from being a White Latina. She benefits from White supremacy. So we all have different experiences.

Yes, I do believe Hispanic Heritage Month is important if we don’t celebrate ourselves then who will? It’s important and it gives us a chance to tell our own stories and have our own narratives.

Marissa– I don’t think there is enough representation. When I graduated Hofstra University there was not many Latino’s represented in corporate America. People will help support you when you have a similar cultural background. People that I knew couldn’t help me because they were still trying to help themselves. With advertisement they don’t understand the entire scope of what we look like and the diversity. I do think it is changing and it is getting better.

Hispanic Heritage month is important. I would like to see the name changed. I feel as if the name is still linked to Spain. It needs to include Latinos from the Caribbean or people that may not speak Spanish. I think it’s important to educate so that we can expand the mindset. People look at Latinos as immigrants and there is a negative connotation to that. Yes, we are immigrants, but we have contributed a lot to America. And we need to get to the point that the economy is dependent on essential workers. We need to change the pre-conceived notion of the negative connotation of being an immigrant. Hispanic Heritage Month is important to highlight the contributions we’ve made.

5. How can more people support the Latina woman?

DioMara– There is a lot of resources. You can start asking questions of all races. So you need to connect with different women like Indigenous, Black or any other race. You can’t go to one Latina and learn. Our experiences are different. Learn information and amplify our stories. Show up. Educate your peers. Pass along the information you’ve learned. And make sure you are doing things in your lives. Heighten your consciousness so you can attract those people in your life. And then you can pass on the information that you learn. You can then help a lot more instead of the Latina woman doing it by themselves.

Marissa- I would say in general being able to learn about the cultures and the differences. Be willing to understand the different backgrounds. Even being a first generation American has its hardships in itself. The Latina woman, we are just getting our feet wet. My parents didn’t go to college. I couldn’t establish myself as easily.  I built myself from the bottom up. I am an advocate for the Latina woman especially in corporate America.

We need people to understand our struggle. It’s also about networking and having advocates. If you know someone who is Latina they might not have the same connections as someone that was born in America. That was one of the hardest things from me graduating Hofstra University. A lot of the white privileged students were already ten steps ahead because they had connections and relatives. My parents couldn’t afford rent or pay for my student loans. It rerouted my career. Because I needed something that would pay me to survive in New York. We need more support and advocates.

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