Queens. No, I mean where are you from from? America. I mean, like, where is your family from? Oh, you wanna know my chemical makeup…
In my lifetime so far, I have been african american, afro caribbean, black latina, boriqueña/dominicana, butter rican pecan/brazilian. I have been all those things and many more, including my personal favorite: the check box on government forms that reads ‘african american (non hispanic),’ after which I proceed to also check the hispanic box on the same form, take that Uncle Sam! I have called myself many things and tried to fit, more and less comfortably, into many boxes depending on my personal politics at given moments. But who am I really?
I was recently in a workshop called writing through asanas (yoga postures) with the amazing Michele Medina. And after 10 minutes of down dog (yes, we held each posture for 10 minutes), she asked us to consider the question: where are you from? In my notebook I wrote:
I am from a place of love. I was born out of love, light, hope, laughter. I am from a hollowed out place in an old beautiful tree, protected by the earth and the spirits. I am from a continuum of energy, love and light, which I neither created nor destroyed, neither began nor ended. I exist within it and it contains me perfectly, provides all my sustenance. I am complete within it.
Imagine giving that answer to someone who really wants to know why your hair is curly like that (and no, it’s not a weave, and please stop putting fingers in my head to check for tracks) even though you “look black.” And why your hips seem to know that salsa rhythm so well. And why you speak Spanish with such a “good accent.” I should try giving that response just for tiffs and giggles.
But seriously, we – my brothers and I – are from so many places that it does boggle the mind and makes it very difficult to give a simple and concise answer in passing conversation. With us, you have to really want to know and then dedicate the time to listen to the full answer. My wonderful Dad was born in Puerto Rico to my Puerto Rican abuelita and my Brazilian avô (he may have actually been from Surinam, directly north of Brazil, we’re not a hundred percent sure). My amazing Mom was born in Aruba and raised in Trinidad by her St. Vincent mom and Dominican father. When I went to Aruba, a Dutch colony, with my grandmother to celebrate her 80th birthday a couple years back, I met my oldest living relative on that side of the family. You would think she’d be speaking in Papiamento, the mix of Dutch, Portuguese and English with vocabulary influences from African and Arawak languages, preferred by the locals. But no, she only wanted to speak in Spanish from her native Dominican Republic, although she did do all her own translation into English for those in the room who couldn’t understand, pretty impressive for a 93-year-old.
So, that’s the skinny. We’re from all over. And there haven’t been any boxes created yet that actually fit us, so in the meantime we’re busy creating our own. I wonder what I will come up with next… Someone dear to me recently suggested morena as a possibility. I am also loosely considering human, maybe even superhuman =)
Loíza, Puerto Rico