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What’s It Like to Be an Afro-Latina Natural in the Hispanic Community? Vlogger Melshary Explains

Avatar • May 16, 2015

There were 11.2 million Africans that we can count who survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World, and of that 11.2 million, only 450,000 came to the United States. That’s amazing. All the rest went south of Miami as it were.” — Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., “Black in Latin America”

A lot of times, when we think of “natural hair”, we think of it from the perspective of African Americans in the United States.  However, there are also individuals of African descent south of the border.  What do natural Afro-Latinas experience there or in their communities here in the United States?  Today, we ask Melshary, who was one of the ladies featured in our post 6 Natural Afro-Latinas to Follow on Youtube. We got in touch with her for an in-depth interview on her experiences and thoughts on the perceptions of natural hair in the Afro-Latina community. MELSHARY5 Do you identify as Afro-Latina?  Why or why not? M: I most certainly identify as an Afro-Latina American.  Before telling you why I identify the way I do let’s break down what Afro-Latina actually means, at least to me. My parents were both immigrants from the Dominican Republic, arriving in NYC in the early 70’s. So this is where the Latina comes from, Dominican Republic being a country in Latina America/Caribbean.  I think the word Afro is pretty clear. I am well aware of my African Ancestry, it is in our culture, in our history and very evident in the people. Where were you born and raised?  What is your heritage/ancestry? M: I was born and raised in BROOKLYN NYC later moving to Manhattan and no not Washington Heights. Peeps from NYC will get this. 😉 As stated above my parents are both Dominican, my siblings and I are 1st generation born in the USA. I have ancestry in the Dominican Republic, Africa and Spain. MELSHARY7 What has been your experience(s) being natural in the Afro-Latina community? M: Honestly speaking I’ve been faced with both good and bad. The good: people accept and actually love my hair and I inspire many to go natural. It’s kind of hard to answer these questions without feeling like I need to give a bit of a history and now lesson. Many Hispanics do not like to acknowledge that they are black. It is seen as somewhat an insult even though it is clear as day where their roots began growing. I don’t have this problem, I’ve embraced it, I love all the things that make me but others look down at what I’ve chosen to embrace. There’s been more than a few times where women who assume I’m not Hispanic and don’t speak Spanish (btw I am fluent, Spanish was my first language) talk about me right in my face. They’ll say things like my hair looks dirty, that I probably never pass a comb through it and mostly that I need a relaxer. Let me tell you I LIVE FOR THESE MOMENTS! Permiso señora, usted debe de tener mucho cuidado de quien hablas porque tu nunca sabes quien hablas español. The look on their faces, priceless. What are the general perceptions surrounding natural hair in the community? M: So if we are talking about the entire Natural Hair Community: I don’t think that those that are not in the Afro-Latina community grasp that we’ve had very similar struggles when it comes to hair and skin color. I’ve heard way too many times that Hispanics (I’m talking about Afro Latinas here) don’t know the struggle, that it isn’t the same, when it really is. I come from a community where beauty is defined by European standards, long straight hair and fair skin. These things make you “better” or more acceptable. I rage against these standards. MELSHARY2 What is your biggest challenge as a natural Afro-Latina? M: I can’t say that I have many challenges now but when I was younger I sure did. The biggest of all was trying to figure out exactly where I fit in. As we all know as a kid fitting in is important. I wasn’t fully accepted by the African American/Black kids because I truly don’t think they weren’t too sure where to put me or what I was exactly, honestly neither did I. The white kids, well they just didn’t want anything to do with me, they kinda just stuck together. Now the Hispanic kids, this where things got a little strange for me because hey this is where I should fit, right? No! I grew up around a lot of “white hispanics” and there was only a sprinkle of “Afro Latinas” that were hell bent on convincing you that they where not black but were quick to put me in that category. I remember a little Puerto Rican girl a few shades darker than me with hair tightly coiled; we were at the pool. In the locker room she turns to me and says, “Does your hair get wet in the water?” Yeah I was just as confused. She goes on to tell me how black people’s hair is so nappy that it doesn’t get wet, the water just sorta sits on their hair and because I’m black my hair won’t get wet. My reply: “What do you think you are”? Her answer: “White, because my hair gets wet”. So I was very much of a loner ’til high school and college where I could find my tribe and that I did. What made you go natural?  Did you have support? M: I don’t have a huge going back to natural story. I loved curls and would admire other naturals. There weren’t many when I decided to go natural but the few I saw had a big impact. And thus began my journey to natural. In addition I was a lazy relaxer, once, twice a year if my mom made me, I didn’t care to spend the money on it. My family loves my hair. My wife LOVES my hair, I have been forbidden from cutting it.. LOL.. MELSHARY4 What are your thoughts on Afro-Latinas who deny their natural hair? M: Honestly, I live by the motto do you. Your hair on your head, do whatever you want. I only have a problem with Afro Latinas who deny their African roots but that’s another story for another day. What are your thoughts on Afro-Latinas who deny their African roots? M: Plainly, I feel like they are denying a vast part of their history and who they are. It’s self hate. I’ve met many women who clearly have African roots but will shout from the roof tops that they’re not black. It has been drilled in their heads that being black is associated with something bad and ugly. This is especially the case in the Dominican Republic. The country many years ago had a Dictator (Trujillo) whose goal was to “lighten the race”. How awful is that? He didn’t accept some of his own people because they were too dark. All it takes is a little research and you’d learn that the slave trade stopped right on all those little islands in the Caribbean. Our African roots are evident in our culture. You hear it in our music and taste it in our foods. I side eye those women who are clearly Afro-Latinas that say they’re not but enjoy the music and food. You can’t pick and chose what parts of your history you want to accept. You’re black, you have African ancestry. That’s powerful and great. You come from a tribe of strong people, people who overcame enormous hardship. It’s disrespectful to deny them. Embrace that, love that. Be proud to call yourself black/Afro Latina! What advice would you give to natural or transitioning Afro-latinas who are facing discouragement from loved ones, etc? M: It’s kind of of hard for me to give advice. A friend pointed out that I’m a lot tougher than most when it comes to just not caring what people have to say. You have 1
life that only you can live. You can chose to live it for yourself or for everyone else. What matters at the end of the day is that you’re happy. Living for what everyone has to say about you will drive you crazy and make you extremely unhappy. People’s opinions of you have nothing to do with you. So live your life and do whatever it is that’s going to make you happy. You can apply that to most aspects of your life. I have and I’ve never been happier. 🙂 Peace, Melshary SOCIAL MEDIA: Youtube: www.youtube.com/melsharya Instagram & Twitter: @Melshary Facebook: www.facebook.com/NaturallyMelshary MELSHARY3

Have you had similar experiences?  Share below!

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Zaza
Zaza
5 years ago

I guess sometimes things get lost in transit — “Permiso señora, usted debe de tener mucho cuidado de quien HABLA porque USTED NUNCA SABE quien HABLE español”. Even though Spanish is not my first language, I’m sorry I couldn’t resist 😛 Very informative piece

Afrobea
Afrobea
5 years ago
Reply to  Zaza

Actually, I would really love a translation ????

BlueCornMoon
BlueCornMoon
5 years ago
Reply to  Afrobea

I had Spanish in high school decades ago but here goes the gist of it , “Pardon me miss,you should be careful who you talk about because you never know who speaks Spanish.” If there’s any native speaker on here, please feel free to make corrections !

Zaza
Zaza
5 years ago
Reply to  BlueCornMoon

Spot on!

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago
Reply to  BlueCornMoon

u got it.

Afrobea
Afrobea
5 years ago

Why would anyone look at this woman and think that she was anything less than beautiful? How deep does the brainwashing go that even your own eyes deceive you?

tracena barnwell
tracena barnwell
5 years ago

Luv this post, so true I know some afro latinas that deny their black heritage for whatever reasons I don’t know but I’m glad she discussed it

Maressa
Maressa
5 years ago

As a fellow Afro-latina I related a lot to this, especially being brown skinned with kinky curly hair. I had grown up hearing that I was beautiful which is refreshing since I’m more black-looking compared to my more mixed-looking family/ friends a lot but my hair is seen as a burden if it was not relaxed and styled straight so I was always so self-conscious to have my hair pin straight with not a kink in sight. Some people even thought my hair was naturally straight! I think not being able to embrace that part of myself hindered my confidence… Read more »

Michele Antoinette
Michele Antoinette
5 years ago

Afro-Latinas Rock

StraightShooter
StraightShooter
5 years ago

All Black women rock.

MaravilhaKristina
MaravilhaKristina
5 years ago

Do you run into funerals screaming all lives matter?
Let folks have their moment, sheesh.

StraightShooter
StraightShooter
5 years ago

That doesn’t really make sense, but ok.

MaravilhaKristina
MaravilhaKristina
5 years ago

This post is about Afro-Latinas. You derailed it by including everyone in your statement, when it’s not about everyone right now. It’s about Afro-Latinas.

StraightShooter
StraightShooter
5 years ago

Your original reply seems to be comparing the need for inclusiveness within the Black diaspora to the senseless murders of Black people. I didn’t derail anything step out of your petty feelings.

MaravilhaKristina
MaravilhaKristina
5 years ago

It was an example. How about you going into “Noodles and Company” whining about Steak? Is that better?

Dore Linton
Dore Linton
5 years ago

Noodles and Company serves steak tho.…

MaravilhaKristina
MaravilhaKristina
5 years ago
Reply to  Dore Linton

YOU GUYS KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING! SHEEEEESH.
I’ve never eaten there, but why would you get steak there? Now I’m derailing the conversation.

Tabatha
Tabatha
5 years ago

Women in general ROCK! God really got it right with us! Yyyaaaasss!

Michele Antoinette
Michele Antoinette
5 years ago

You do realize that saying one doesn’t negate the other. That’s the same thing that ignorant people do, when you say black lives matter…and someone says all lives matter—–it’s not the point

StraightShooter
StraightShooter
5 years ago

Surely, but you do understand that I don’t need someone condescending me right? You do understand that inferring that I’m ignorant only makes you seem ignorant?

Michele Antoinette
Michele Antoinette
5 years ago

Yeah, sure…whatever you say. Go troll somewhere else.

StraightShooter
StraightShooter
5 years ago

So because I refuse to be disrespected by you I’m a troll? Whatever, you don’t get to invalidate my statements just because you disagree. Have a nice life.

Michele Antoinette
Michele Antoinette
5 years ago

What purpose did your response to my original post serve, I’ll wait.

StraightShooter
StraightShooter
5 years ago

Ask yourself that question in reference to my original post.

Michele Antoinette
Michele Antoinette
5 years ago

Again, what purpose did it serve—-in your own words. This post isn’t about all black women, it was about those who identify as afro-latina, and after reading the article.…I felt proud to be able to identify as one.…so, I shall ask again, what purpose was your comment meant to serve? At a Puerto Rican pride parade, would you see an Irish riverdancing group or everybody carying rainbow flags, the answer is NO, because while some Puerto Ricans may be half Irish or identify as LGBT or a supporter.…..during that moment in time, it is not about that.

Tashana Barrios
Tashana Barrios
5 years ago

I love this article. I can relate to it so much!! I’m not afro latina, but I am mixed with Black and Mexican and I had very similar experiences growing up. I’m glad she is able to be comfortable in her own skin and hair as she got older.

Prieta
Prieta
5 years ago

Sounds like you are Afro-Latina

elizabeth31
elizabeth31
5 years ago
Reply to  Prieta

OMG, don’t tell a Mexican they are Latina, they consider it disrespectful. They usually go by Indigenous or Mexican, and we should respect them for this, not tell them “You’re Latina”. She doesn’t identify as Latina, and neither geographically, culturally, linguistically, or historically has to identify as one. Latina is a name that conquerors bestowed on them–allow her to respect her ancestors as she sees fit.

Tashana Barrios
Tashana Barrios
5 years ago
Reply to  Prieta

Hi Prieta,
Afro — latinas are Latinos from the caribean. Think Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominiccan Republic. This authors parents are both from there. I wouldn’t be considered Afro-latina because Im not from the caribean and only one of my parents is latino. But, people assume I’m Puerto Rican all the time, lol.

elizabeth31
elizabeth31
5 years ago

My husband is the darkest of dark and had to surprise someone not two weeks ago who decided to call us a certain little black bug from Mexico. Needless to say, they were surprised they had to apologize, but really being Afro Latinx isn’t a joke. Racism is real!

Tabatha
Tabatha
5 years ago

Well I’m from Spain. I don’t look at Myself as Black-Hispanic, BUT Spain does. Being in the states it’s so hard to claim the different parts of me because a lot of ethnicities don’t want you to claim that side if you are not close to 100% or if you don’t live in a particular area or whatever. You always have to overly prove yourself. With that being said I don’t deny my make up, but I don’t slam it in people’s face. I normally rattle off the list when people ask about my background and what am I mixed… Read more »

blacknproud
blacknproud
5 years ago
Reply to  Tabatha

Normally rattle off the list” is slamming it in people’s faces

Noriecreates
Noriecreates
5 years ago

Great post! It’s sad that we aren’t more connected globally! Why is being Black a negative?? Smh!

Shauntay Vichelle Larkins
Shauntay Vichelle Larkins
5 years ago

“Permiso señora, usted debe de tener mucho cuidado de quien hablas porque tu nunca sabes quien hablas español. The look on their faces, priceless.” BRILLIANT! I loved that you put it down. I am not fluent in Spanish (close but no cigar…LOL) but I started studying it early in life and I grew up around Brazilians so my accent is good. So when I did speak Spanish, I was often mistaken for Dominican. I always took it as the compliment it was usually meant to be as it was usually from other Spanish speakers. And frankly, I LOVE that black people… Read more »

S Rivera
S Rivera
4 years ago

You are stupid and racist. Dominican and Brazilian is not one in the same. You will never have a Dominican accent by hanging around Brazilians dumbass. Brazilians speak Portuguese not Spanish. Be African American *eww*. Stop trying to be Hispanic. We don’t want you in our community. You’re typical African American lying about your heritage as a way to get privilege over other African Anericans. So shut up. You don’t know Latinos stop lying.

Samantha
Samantha
3 years ago
Reply to  S Rivera

Wow…I see you are in deep denial…take a DNA test and let’s see ALL of your roots.….Wow it must be really depressing being you…having self hate is crazy! You know you are black.…sicko!

Michelle Clark
Michelle Clark
5 years ago

The Negro image is put down so hard, that many try to escape it. Also the fact that Jesus Christ is black is so hated, that it is hidden from many. So it’s no wonder that many hate to claim an image that is said to be a “menace to society,” and other cruel things. When the truth comes out, that the Son of God is Black, his father is black and his mother, and they have hair like wool, some will be very glad, at last…at last. Then, many will claim a black relation in their heritage. Reversal 🙂 YES!

Mzdramaqween
Mzdramaqween
4 years ago
Reply to  Michelle Clark

Very true it’s so funny how colored people want to claim anything but black… Just because bein black has been put down.… In reality black is the best and only race God was black Adam And Eve were black we all came from the same black people We just changed due to lot or less sunlight the adaptation of way we eat more drink It made us different with different skin tones and hair texture.… I wish we could all realize we’re one united. But no one race wasn’t to be more superior than the other all this is stupidness!!!!!!!!!

EllieLo
EllieLo
5 years ago

I read all of this in Mel’s voice, haha!
She did a video on this, but I’m glad she did an interview on it too. It’s interesting to hear all of these perspectives.
I’m always curious about the experiences of those who’re black but not American, like.…My family came from that 450,000, but that’s merely a fraction of black presence in the Americas.

I need to know more, man!

Melshary Love-Arias
Melshary Love-Arias
5 years ago
Reply to  EllieLo

LOL. When I re-read it to myself it was in my voice too.. 🙂

Dee
Dee
5 years ago

I am glad that Melshary shared her story with us. She’s beautiful indeed! 🙂

JazzWife
JazzWife
5 years ago

Still sounds like you are Afro-Latina.

Vanessa
Vanessa
5 years ago

No. Afro Latina means a person from Latin America of African descent. It’s not just the islands and I think having a parent who is Latino counts. Latino is an ethnic group not a race.

Tashana Barrios
Tashana Barrios
5 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

I don’t really know why everyone feels the need to tell me how to identify. This is my opinion, just like everyone is entitled to their own. I love my culture and heritage and am very proud of it. I don’t personally identify as afro-Latina, I’ll say I’m Blacksican if people ask. I speak Spanish, wear my hair naturally and to me I am Mexican and Black. Is there anything wrong with identifying as afro-latina? Absolutely not, I just feel like I’m not acknowledging a part of my family by calling myself that. It is what it is. Moving on!

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago

I think you should call yourself what makes you happy. BTW Mexican is a nationality or ethnicity. Not a race. So technically saying you are mixed with Mexican and black is like someone saying they are mixed with white and Irish. In other words being one doesn’t mean you can’t be the other. Black is not an ethnicity. An ethnicity would be like Fulani or Igbo. There are black Mexicans. There are people descended from African slaves taken to Mexico. Vera Cruz is one of the places many black Mexicans live according to all my friends from Mexico.. The majority… Read more »

Melshary Love-Arias
Melshary Love-Arias
5 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

Exactly. Thanks for clearing that up for her.

Melshary Love-Arias
Melshary Love-Arias
5 years ago

Actually no. The term “Afro” is just not for those in the Caribbean. People do some research on this. How about you look up Afro Mexicans.

LW
LW
4 years ago

Its so sad and tragic when Latinos and blacks don’t accept their African heritage.…Lord knows white people don’t care how light your skin is in their eyes you are not WHITE no matter how straight your hair is …if there is ever a race war all those dark skinned, light skinned Latinos from around the world straight hair and all would be sent to the pits with the rest of black people…why do people of color so desperate to be white? last time i read in the bible the savior was described as “feet of bronze hair whitelike wool” bronze… Read more »

Samantha
Samantha
3 years ago
Reply to  LW

Hitler crazy behind was also Jewish.

Stephine Griffith
Stephine Griffith
5 years ago

My family are mix just like you native and african, we have all hair types and we identify as mixed.We are latinas but we say mix latina not just black or native.Not one or the other but both even if u do not look black or native that blood is there. Love my culture. I can relate to this

BronxChildOfDiaspora
BronxChildOfDiaspora
3 years ago

Good article and it’s wonderful that so many Latinas are embracing their African ancestory. Definetly a beautiful thing! There is tshirt for us Naturalistas to rock to show off our hair that proudly states, “All hair is good hair!” https://www.micmasremix.com/listing/522519463/todo-pelo-es-pelo-bueno-100-cotton

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