By Libertad Araceli Thomas
“Do you know what your name means?”
This was a question that made me hate name tags since the second grade. “Libertad? You know it means ‘Freedom’ in Spanish, right?” Of course, I knew what my name meant. I knew what it meant when I was old enough to talk, I knew what it meant before I ever entered school, and I knew what it meant at 18 years old when I took my first job as a barista at a local coffee shop and was again subjected to wearing the name tags I so dreaded as a kid. At home, I was Libertad, but to the world I was a Black girl with a Spanish name.
From first glance, loads of people tell me I don’t “look” Latina. And what’s devastating is that for a while, I believed them. You see, a darker skinned girl with kinky hair like me never made it to my TV screen when “La Familia” parked our butts down to watch Spanish language programs.
Afro-Latinas like me rarely, if ever, showed up in any history lessons. In fact, I hadn’t even known that any Black Latinas made contributions to Latin American societies until I was well out of college and half way into my 20’s. But the thing that hurt the most for a kid who liked to lose herself in books was that a girl like me, Black and Cuban with an unusual name that almost no one can say, was never in any works of fiction.
I tell people all the time being a Black Latina has to be the equivalent to seeing a unicorn in real life. No matter how real you appear to be, standing there in front of them, they have to question your existence and blink a million times at the mere sight of you. I’ve always felt too black to be Latina and too foreign to feel completely African-American. Worst of all, I felt invisible. I can’t help thinking maybe it would have been different if more Afro-Latin@s were in books.
The thing that’s missing here is a little thing called representation. We don’t only need Latin@ characters; we need intersectionality.
In a bright future, I want to pick up a book that goes above and beyond to highlight just how diverse and multifaceted Latino culture can be. I want to read about Latin@s of Asian ancestry like the ones I knew growing up in Miami. Queer Latin@s who are brown, black, mixed, and indigenous. Latin@s who speak Portuguese instead of Spanish, because far too often Brazilians get left out of the conversation, and most of all I’d love to see more Black Latin@s as lead protagonists.
It took me 20+ years to stop feeling like just a Black girl with a Spanish name. Girls after me deserve different. Most of all, they deserve better.
About the Blogger/Aspiring writer:
Libertad Araceli Thomas is part one of the Twinjas of Diversity @ Twinja Book Reviews. When she’s not reading stories featuring multicultural lead protagonists, she’s busy improving her no hand aerials and working on getting her Blue Belt in Tang Soo Do and Purple in Shaolin Kempo. She writes under the pen name “GL Tomas.”
During my blog’s Black Speculative Fiction Month I dedicated a Top Ten list of Afro Latinos in Speculative Fiction because I just looove Spec Fic, Please check it out and comment with any additions I could add to the list!