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Posts tagged ‘Black Latina’

Christina Mendez Rocks the Runway

Our February article for Being Latino focuses on Christina Mendez, model, advocate for Autism Speaks, and granddaughter of Joseito Mateo.

Christina Mendez loves to perform. She’s bubbly and warm. And when your grandfather is the greatest merenguero in Dominican Republic history, it might be safe to say that performing runs deep in your blood.

Christina was an aspiring singer as a teenager, performing in the school choir. Interestingly, merengue was never part of her repertoire. Perhaps, because she’s lived her entire life on New York City’s Upper West Side, in a neighborhood where the name Joseito Matteo probably would not have carried much weight.

However, she is quick to point out that if she had grown up just a few blocks north in Washington Heights, the epicenter of Dominican culture, she almost certainly would have been inundated with “free cake, free everything.” At age 92, no other Dominican singer is more revered than Joseito Matteo.

While Christina is exceptionally honored by her family’s musical legacy, “I’m always proud of his (her grandfather’s) success,” she never wanted to ride the coattails of her famous grandfather. She is charting her own course but her journey to the ascendency of Plus Size modeling has taken a few detours.

When I was in school, I had a problem with cutting class. They couldn’t keep me in school. I was a hot mess. It was hard to control me,” says Christina. It took a clever Spanish teacher, Jose Melendez, to keep her in the Humanities High School building. He tempted her with opportunities to model in after school fashion shows in an effort to keep her and her friends from being truant. Christina describes Mr. Melendez’s approach to the catwalk, “He hit the runway like he was Naomi Campbell; he taught us how to walk the runway.” Christina was hooked and continued to model. Inspired, she graduated from high school and enrolled at Atlanta’s Morris Brown College, one of the United States’ historically black colleges.

As she recounts, Christina selected Morris Brown for two main reasons: First, “I love black people…. I consider myself a Black Latina. I don’t fit the standard look  (Latinas in the media). My grandfather is very dark and my mother is very dark. My mother had a lot of issues about being black. She has said statements like, ‘You are light. You are going to get more opportunities.’ And I would say, I love your color. I tan to be your color. You are crazy. You look great.” Second, Christina wanted to live as far away from home as possible, spread her wings and be independent.

Read the full article on Being Latino.

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Ynanna Djehuty’s Path to Identifying as an Afro-Latina

by Nicolle Morales Kern

The journey to self-discovery can be a long one, often involves exploring outside of the boundaries provided by family, and can lead to a new identity.

Such is the case for Afro-Dominican poet, writer, and birth doula Ynanna Djehuty (born Carmen Mojica). Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Djehuty didn’t start referring to herself as Afro-Dominican until she started researching her heritage at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where she studied Black Studies and Television/Radio Productions. On this journey, she realized that there was a part of herself that she hated.

“The community in U.S. doesn’t like to recognize African heritage. I can only guess that in the Dominican Republic it might be the same. In the U.S., there is a clear black and white line; our society doesn’t understand there is a mix of things and you have to define if you’re black or white, and when I was growing up I didn’t realize that was happening, and always saw white as better.”

During her last semester in college, Djehuty took a class on Women in the Caribbean, which not only focused the racial aspects, but on the entire experience of women and how colonization has impacted their lives. After reading the article Latinegras: Desired Women – Undesirable Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Wives by Marta Cruz-Janzen, she recognized who she is and how she feels about herself. As a result, Djehuty wrote a 20-page paper on the Afro-Latina identity. One thing she discovered during her research is that there are not many voices contributing to the subject.

“I decided I wanted to add to the voices of Afro-Latinas, to share information with other Afro-Latinas who don’t have words for their experiences,” says Djehuty on her decision to write her first book Hija De Mi Madre (My Mother’s Daughter), published in October 2009. The book is “a combination of memoirs, poems and research material that explains the effects of race on identity from an academic standpoint. She shares her personal story as a metaphor to place a common cultural experience into context.” Read more