Elaine Vilorio is a high school senior, who originally hails from the Dominican Republic. Vilorio has spent years trying to make sense of her racial identity. While the teen describes herself as Hispanic, other people assume that she is black, which in turn has always made her feel uncomfortable. Two years ago, however, after she stopped chemically straightening her hair (surprise, surprise), the change in her appearance made her reconsider her ethnic makeup.
Vilorio penned her thoughts in a Huffington Post piece titled “Coming Out As Black,” (which sounds a little weird, but you get it after reading her article).
I’m Black. After many years in the closet, after many years of breathing that stale air of self-denial, I can finally say this.
Growing up, I dreaded the question “What are you?” I always proudly answered that I was Hispanic. In fact, I made it a point to emphasize my Hispanicity simply because I knew what was coming next. “I’m Hispanic; I speak Spanish; my parents come from Dominican Republic. I’m Hispanic. And, just to clarify, I’m Hispanic.” To this, the other person confessed: “Oh… I thought you were Black. You definitely look Black.” The problem was I perceived the identification of “Hispanic” outside the realm of Blackness; but then, I wasn’t the only one. Take note that the other person in my scenario thought the same thing. Right after my declaration of Hispanicity, he/she stripped away the “Black” label with the phrases “I thought” and “You definitely look…”
Just last week, Vilorio goes on Tell Me More with guest host Celeste Headlee to delve into the sticky subject matters of her letter.
I still identify strongly as a Hispanic because, you know, that is my culture. My parents raised me and the values that they grew up with. And then also I had, … growing up in America and in the American school system so I had … that bi-cultural influence. But racially I’m black, you know. I can say that I’m black and being black and being Hispanic, Hispanic being a culture and black … being associated with a culture, yes, but also with a race. You can be racially black and you can be culturally Hispanic and that was something that I wanted to combine, that I want to explore further and talk about more.
The truth is, being Latino –– Afro-Latino, is an untaught story. It is a complicated history backdropped by a palette that spans the rainbow. And like many, being regarded as anything black was something I viewed as negative for years, until I moved to the south as a young teenager. Like Elaine Vilorio, I come from a long line of Dominicans that boast skin as pale as porcelain, to skin as dark as coal, and despite the shade, sadly, many of us still negate or aim to refute our African roots.
I, for one, applaud Elaine Vilorio for embracing her complete heritage instead of praising one side while showing disdain for the other. Hair plays a major role in Dominican culture, and as such, stripping away the relaxer opens up the gates to a whole new world for someone like Elaine, whose natural hair is not straight (also frowned upon if you’re Dominican).
While the term “Latino” encompasses many worlds already, the term “Afro-Latino” emphasizes blackness. It is, of course, the one facet that is disregarded from the culture all too often…