Sunday, June 12, 2011

"LaLa Vasquez: Puerto Rican can be "Black" too!"

This is an old article, but I enjoyed it because it was very well said. I am glad that a famous Afro-Latina was able to speak out on what it means to be an Afro-Latina. I can definitely relate to everything that she discussed. The one things that bothers me is when people TELL me that I am not Puerto Rican. It usually starts as someone asking if I'm mixed, and when I tell them I'm Puerto Rico they go on to say that I must be also mixed with African American. Okay yes I am mixed with African blood, but the African they are referring to is African American, not Afro-Latino. I feel like by them saying that, I am being perceived as being less of a Hispanic, in comparison to someone else who looks like your stereotypical Latina. But what is even worse is when I am accused of lying about who I really am. Anyways, here is the article. I added a snippet from an article as well:

"A lot of people don’t realize that I’m Latina, which is fine. One thing about being Latina is that there isn’t one look that comes with the territory. I don’t expect people to know my cultural background just by glancing at me. I do, however, expect that when I tell people my family is from Puerto Rico, that I will be believed and not accused of trying to be something that I’m not. It usually goes something like this: a person having a conversation with me discovers one way or another that I’m Puerto Rican and fluent in Spanish. That person then expresses their shock over these realizations for any number of reasons—common responses are, "You don’t look Latina" and "I thought you were black!" I never said I wasn’t black. And since when does being black and being Latina have to be mutually exclusive?

In my experience, people tend to have an uninformed and rather narrow view of what it means to be Puerto Rican. For me, not looking like some people’s idea of a typical Latina has been challenging and often painful. I constantly find myself trying to justify who I am, and why should I? I’m proud of my heritage and my family. Both of my parents are from Puerto Rico. They raised two kids in Brooklyn and later in New Jersey, where we ate arroz con gandules and pasteles and listened to salsa music. I feel just as at home in Puerto Rico, where I still have tons of family, including aunts, uncles and cousins. Puerto Rico is in my blood. And that has nothing to do with the color of my skin.

I’m not angry with anyone who doesn’t understand the complexities of race and culture. And I’m also not interested in having long, drawn out conversations about how it’s possible for me to look like this and speak Spanish. In fact, sometimes I make it a point not to mention my parents’ birthplace because I don’t always feel like having the inevitable discussion that follows. Instead, I let people look at me and come to their own conclusions. As I start to get my feet wet in Hollywood, I already know that there are certain parts I won’t even be considered for. The character can be Puerto Rican and speak Spanish just like me, but Hollywood defines Latina as Jennifer Lopez and Sofia Vergara. As beautiful as they are, we’re not all one race in Latin America. But I don’t go to auditions so that I can give history lessons to film executives. I’d rather skip the entire process.

I’m raising my son to understand who he is, and it’s my hope that he’ll never let others define him. It reflects poorly on us when we don’t educate ourselves about the rest of the world and what it looks like. I encourage people who are interested to learn more, do research and ask informed questions. If you’re lucky enough to visit various countries in Latin America, you’ll be baffled to see the blackest of the black and the lightest of the light living together. And I dare you to ask one of them to prove their latinidad." 

Also, here is a snippet from an article she had with Latina Magazine:
"Bossip: So, some of our readers felt a little shunned by the comments you made in the January issue “Latina” magazine this year. Pretty much, you were trying to justify your Rican to people.
La La: I don’t know why! I am a Black-Puerto Rican.
Bossip: Well,  a lot of Afro-Latinos don’t want to be recognized for being “Black,” only Latino (Sammy Sosa, Daddy Yankee, Even Fat Joe Unless He’s Rapping,):
La La: Not me, I embrace being a Black-Puerto Rican and think we are plentiful and do exist! I am more “black” than people think. I would never shun that part of me and my marriage and the way I conduct MYSELF in public should speak volumes for what I stand for. I speak fluent Spanish as well, so why deny that intricacy of my makeup?
Lala: Since I don’t look like J-Lo, it’s hard for me to get the Puerto Rican/Latin role in a movie. I speak fluent Spanish, but get cast as being black long before they put me as the Latino.
Bossip: So, what do you say to the readers who sort of “rode with us” on saying “why not just say you are black?”
La La: I feel they should relax first of all. Look at the person for who they are despite their race, but also embrace that person of color because we come in all types. People do not question a Trinadian person that is black if he says… “I am black… my parents are from Trinidad.”



  1. I am a black woman with latin roots and I live in the south. For several hundred years people have been forced by law(segregation) to claim either the white race or the black race. Most blacks take the position that if you don't choose to identify with their race even after segregation, you must be ashamed of them and your roots. I'm not saying that's right, but that's the way its been for many generations.So since most U.S. black families originated in the south, so goes that mind set.

    Lately there has been a huge influx of tan to brown skinned people moving into the south. White people don't claim them, but blacks aren't sure if they should claim them since most don't even speak english well. Now in a few years when their children become more Americanized we'll see how things go.

  2. I fully relate to this article and to you. My family is from Panama and we look like African Americans (for the most part) all of my life I have dealt with this kind of bigotry from whites and just as much (if not more) from blacks. I've been accused of lying about my race or been told that "my parents are Panamanian, but I'm not". I don't understand what kind of craziness that is except prejudice. I'm Afro-Latina and I'm proud of it. I also know quite a few brown skinned Puerto Ricans. I just don't know why people feel like they have the right to argue with us about our heritage. I've never seen anyone telling a Chinese person they weren't Chinese just because they were born in America. So why should we be different? SMH!!