As an Afro-Latino born in the Dominican Republic, I feel a strong connection to both my Spanish and African heritage.
Here’s a fun fact: Dominicans are a triracial culture made up of European, African, and Indigenous Americans. The Dominican Republic National Office of Statistics reports that 73% of Dominicans are triracial.
According to 23andMe, my own racial makeup is 59.5% Sub-Saharan African, 34% European (Spanish & Portuguese), and 6% Indigenous American. Not all Dominicans have the same genetic makeup. Some people, such as my mother, have a higher percentage of Spanish ancestry, while others have a higher percentage of indigenous ancestry. It’s important to acknowledge that not all Dominicans accept their African roots. Simply Google “I’m not black, I’m Dominican” and you’ll see countless articles, videos, blogs, and memes about the subject. This subject is quite controversial for some, and I plan to address it in a future blog.
The early years
I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic until I was ten years old. My family immigrated to the United States in the late 80s, where I was raised in the small immigrant town of Lawrence, Massachusetts.
It was a true blessing growing up in Lawrence. It was similar to growing up in the Dominican Republic because the town was predominantly Latino, so there was a familiar face everywhere you went.
As you walked around Lawrence, you could hear merengue music coming from every Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla that passed by. The smell of freshly done hair and sofrito spices swept through the air anywhere and everywhere you went. It was a truly unique and supportive environment to grow up in as a young immigrant.
The culture shock was real, y’all!
I didn’t realize how homogeneous America was until I went to college. At the time, Bridgewater State University was a predominantly white institution, and I struggled to fit in as a first-gen student. As a result, my GPA after my first semester was 1.7, and I was quickly placed on probation and threatened with losing my financial aid.
Another reality I had to adjust to was being the only person of color almost everywhere I went.
I felt like an outsider, a fraud, and an imposter. My biggest challenge, I recall, was having to speak English all day long. I became hyperaware of my accent and felt dumb every time I used the wrong language. Another reality I had to adjust to was being the only person of color almost everywhere I went. I recall only one other POC on my floor, who was Cape Verdean. I couldn’t tell where he was from, at first, because he had light skin and hazel eyes. We kept our distance for an entire semester because we didn’t know how to connect in such a foreign environment.
Fortunately, BSU recognized it had a diversity problem and worked hard to address it during my time there. One thing I found extremely beneficial was that they had numerous student organizations, which I joined a lot of.
Pa’lante, pa’lante, como un elefante
Getting involved in student organizations was a turning point for me. I highly recommend struggling students find refuge in student organizations. I made life-long friendships, they gave me purpose outside of my academics, and they provided a safe haven for me during a very vulnerable time.
During my final three years at BSU, I was president of one of the student organizations, La Sociedad Latina. As a student leader, I met and mentored dozens of students, received numerous leadership awards, and was able to overcome many personal obstacles. I went on to earn a degree in communications and fine arts.
My professional career has been extremely rewarding. In 20 years as an in-house designer and creative manager, I’ve worked on multi-million-dollar branding projects, won numerous creative awards, managed and mentored dozens of super-talented designers — and I’m just getting started.
In many ways, I am living proof that, despite its shortcomings, the American dream is still alive and well.