By Jarol Rivera-Diaz
Hola! Rather, Hello. I am me, yourself. A new and older you, to be exact. You might not be able to read this letter just yet. You are still seventeen, naïve, and monolingual. Do not worry, you will learn how to read and write in English in six months. Your thick accent might get in the way sometimes; do not let the smirks and laughs discourage you. In the end, you will still manage to lead discussions in class. Yes, you will become a college student, but no, you will not choose pre-med as mom wanted.
Your career choice, you ask? Anthropology. Why? Because you wanted answers. To what? A simple conundrum. You will discover that you can board a plane and change your race.
On August 25, 2012, you will fly in a plane for the first time. Do not be anxious. There will be lots of turbulence. The food will be nonexistent, and your brother will rest his head on your shoulder. Do not push him away. You will drift apart from each other eventually. Your schedules won’t match and eventually you will see each other only at night.
You will miss your friends immensely. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to say your goodbyes. Your high school graduation date will be postponed a whole week, the same day you are moving to America. Do not promise them you will meet them again. You will not. Forget them, move on with your life. They will ignore your texts. When K. and A. give you the cold shoulder and make fun of your accent, do not mind them. They’ll leave your church community by the end of the year .The biggest lesson you will learn in your twenties is that relationships are a two-way street.
While filling out your school application, do not choose “Latino” as your racial/ethnic background. Through phone calls and official papers your Spanish accent and Spanish- sounding, hyphenated last name might reveal you as Latino; your looks won’t match the preconceived image of a young Latino man in the U.S. The following winter, while you work as a cashier at McDonald’s, do not help translate for Spanish speakers. They will thank you by raising their eyebrows and telling you, “you don’t look Latino; how can you speak Spanish?” Tell them you used Rosetta Stone for beginners. They won’t believe if you tell them you are a native speaker, even though you are far more literate and fluent.
Speaking of disbelief, when your classmates at choir demand you to speak Spanish to prove your Latinness, don’t do it. You have nothing to prove. Brazilians and Haitians are both Latinos and neither speak Spanish as a first language. Neither do your Hispanic classmates. Don’t get tired of introducing yourself as an Afro-Latino; Black and Hispanic are not mutually exclusive. People’s ignorance will amaze you. At first you will think it is not your job to educate them. It kind of is. Don’t overreact when the white girl in your writing intensive class, in your sophomore year, asks you “What kind of drink is ‘Afro-Latino?’” She has honestly never heard that word before. Neither have your fellow Black Latino friends. When your friend Fridda gets mad because you called her Black, do not apologize. She is blacker than you, for God’s sake. She will tell you she is a mulatto, mixed person like the rest of your countrymen. Her swarthy looks, broad nose, and kinky hair are the result of her French and African ancestry, she’ll say. Do not try to convince other Dominicans they are Black. You will lose friends if you do, Fridda included. Dominicans still believe in a utopian racial democracy where the small white oligarchy controls everything.
Don’t be jealous of your brother because of his lighter skin and bright hazel eyes. Caucasian blood is not a magical tonic that grants beauty. Do not despise your hair. When Grandma tells you to get a buzz cut to look presentable, do not listen. You got your coiled, kinky hair from her. Do no try to accommodate others, not even your family. Hug mom a lot more; she will present bipolar tendencies as time goes by. She did not prefer your brother over you, by the way. He just needed more attention and help with school work than you did. More importantly, love yourself more. There is nothing wrong with your body. I lied. There is. You will develop a binge eating disorder by 21. You still have it. Do worry about your mental health. Lastly, do not worry about your looks; melanin is just a natural protection against sun, and does not define your character.