I am African-American and Puerto Rican, black on both sides, un poco indígena.
I grew up in a land of women, descended from clusters of sisters who were siblings first, mothers second, daughters third. My latinidad unfolds from that past, binds me to my three sisters in the present, pushes us down dark streets into the future. It never crossed my mind to question the role women’s labor, time, energy, and anger played in my everyday life. It was in the water.
Like English, Spanish is a language of colony, empire, and bondage. English erases her/ella from existence; Spanish obsesses over defining the terms. Spanish leaves little space for gender to hide, slide away from itself, transgress, be queer. Gender becomes a territory marked by soft vowel sounds asking who is she/quien es ella and who is she to him.
I want my language(s) to reflect my reality, the generation on generation of women’s work I wrap myself in. I use the *@* to disrupt the a/o in Latin@, to force the reader to search for *her* or *him* or *hir* or *they.* To require consent. Or a question: Who are you and who am I to you?
My blackness, checkered, runs in multiple directions—through South Bronx, Carolina, Utuado, Alabama—and meets itself back in Chicago, the city of wind. It’s bolstered by familia formed in DC, Brooklyn, New Orleans; only at the LatiNegr@s Project, among radical womyn of color bloggers, as my mother’s daughter. So I use the small ‘b’ because on these different roads, my blackness is called different things and signified in different ways—it is hip hop, Regla Ocha, house music, the chocolate strike of the clave, twerking, and ratchet. I fear boundaries created by nationalizing blackness. I want it all—every drop of Africana/africanidad I can drink up. I even want the blackness that denies itself. And I want my blackness to trickle and breathe without effort, coil like a cobra before striking.
In the past, I haven’t remixed the arroba with Afro (Afr@) or used Afra. I could give a good reason, suggest using Afr@ appears redundant against its counterpart in Afr@Latin@, or using Afra, while centering women, succumbs to a gender binary that erases trans* and genderqueer latinidad.
But my real reason is still the water. Convinced my latinidad was already so dark, intimate, and female, it never occurred to me to do more than pair it, linguistically and visually, with my blackness: Latinegr@. Afrolatinidad. Afro-Latin@. And ingesting a blackness already so rich and male, I never questioned ways I assumed a certain masculinity in the Afro-diasporic movements, politics, imagined diaspora also as male.
These are questions I didn’t ask until forced to, until given space to do so in places like this. In other words, there is more in the water than I thought. There are monsters swimming there, dangerous assumptions worth putting to bed and soon.
Now I’m looking at the word Afr@Latin@ and discovering there is something satisfying about seeing the arroba nestled so nicely within the word/between the words, something circular and thick and familiar. Como una guagua winding its way home.
by Jessica Marie (@jmjohnso)