This post was written by Contributing Author S. Lenise Wallace, a motivational speaker, communication professional and college professor teaching communication courses at CUNY.
Where is “home”? Literally and figuratively? This was a theme that arose from the screening of the documentary Latinegras: The Journey of Self-Love through an Afro Latina Lens directed by Omilani Alarcon. The film screening and panel discussion that followed was moderated by Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and panelists were filmmaker Omilani Alarcon and CUNY professors Drs. Ryan Mann-Hamilton and S. Lenise Wallace.
During the panel discussion, Omilani, Ryan and I addressed several questions, in addition to the theme. Watching the documentary, I could relate firsthand to Omilani’s experiences of searching for self-love and identity. As an Afro Latina, I have often felt that I was an anomaly. My parents migrated to the United States from Costa Rica for the same reasons so many immigrants do, for a different life. Although I was born here, there was still a duality to being born a Black Latina and American. In our home, there was Costa Rican culture, values and tradition passed down by my parents. Outside the home, I was a Black woman in all things American cultured. Inside our home, the only Black Latina I could identify with was Celia Cruz. La Reina. She was beautiful with a voice like no other—and she was the only Afro Latina I saw on television that looked like me and my family. Colorism within the Latino community and how we were invisible on Novellas on the Spanish stations were another issue. I remembered well that if one’s family was not from the U.S. you were either Jamaican or Puerto Rican—there was no in between. Thus, why I stated, I was an anomaly. Growing up, I came across so many people who never knew: 1. Where Costa Rica was; 2. Costa Ricans existed, and 3. That Black Latinos existed. I found myself constantly explaining my identity and lineage. I remember a Black American friend telling me once, “Oh, so you’re not Black Black” or, “which one of your parents are from the states?” It was exhausting explicating that, “yes, my parents’ first language is Spanish.” It was also sad that many people did not know about the African diaspora and how many enslaved Africans were shipped to many countries. My situation was complex and layered. After all, Costa Rica was not my home, I never lived there. Yet, in my actual home, Costa Rican culture and tradition was my home. Thanks to my loving parents who provided such a foundation for us as a family, when I did go outside of our home, I was enough. When I did visit Costa Rica, I was in awe of being able to put a face to the places my parents and my Tia Amanda shared with me. My mother always told me, “home is where YOU make it” and I never forgot that.
Lastly, a goal of this event was to raise awareness of Afro Latinx experiences to our CUNY community. Nearly 100 people attended our virtual event. After the film screening and discussion there was an excellent question and answer dialogue between the participants and attendees. A student who attended the event said, “This was the first time in my life I learned about my culture. Hearing people who sound like my loved ones educate myself and others was beautiful humbling and tear jerking. Thank you for this !!!” This comment alone let us know that our goal was met, and we are thankful for that.
S. Lenise Wallace, Ph.D. is a motivational speaker, communication professional and college professor teaching communication courses at The City University of New York. She has over fifteen years of experience in public relations and image consulting. Her research interests include public relations, race and gender in mass media. She authored a chapter in the book, Demystifying the Big House: Exploring Prison Experience and Media Representations. In addition, she co-authored a journal article, Women of Color in Academia and the Influence of Religious Culture on Self-Promotion: A Collaborative Autoethnography. Currently, she is writing her upcoming book, Who’s Reppin You? Being Your Best Rep: Personally, Professionally & Spiritually.