“I am not biracial; I am bicultural.”
By Antonia Naje Allsopp
Celebrate National Latin-American/Hispanic Heritage Month with us! Through October 15, we’ll be sharing various stories from the Latinx community — be sure to read them all here.
In an adorably straightforward cartoon to explain his Mexican-American, bicultural, mixed-race heritage, cartoonist Terry Blas clarified the confusing terminology: “Hispanic” defines
language, while “Latino” defines geography. (“Latinx” is becoming popular, too, as it eliminates the male-female binary inherent in the original term.) None of these distinctions are defined by race. Let’s explore the many shades of Latin that grace us each day.
“I remember when you told black Latinas that they were black and they would want to fight you,” says Keka Araújo, as we discuss the recently fashionable topic of being Afro-Latina. “Some people want to make me biracial. I am not biracial; I am bicultural,” she continues. “I am unapologetically black.”
Of growing up in a Pan-African household with an African-American father who is Muslim and a black Cuban mother who practiced an African religion, Araújo says, “A lot of times there [was] a struggle people had fitting into boxes — I didn’t really have that issue because my parents exposed me to blackness from everywhere. There was never a time where I questioned what blackness was. Growing up like that really gave me a different perspective.”
Araújo is a journalist and editor-in-chief of the blog “Negra with Tumbao,” which focuses on life, beauty and culture. Negra means “black” and tumbao is a rhythm on the bass in Afro-Cuban music. Her inspiration for the name? This song:
“Celia Cruz is the black patron saint of Cuba,” Araújo explains, referring to the Afro-Cuban music legend well-known for her song “La Negra Tiene Tumbao,” among many others. Cruz ruled the Latin airwaves for five decades, was called the Queen of Salsa and was key to the music genre’s popularity. Cruz also embraced African parts of her identity at a time when it wasn’t chic to do so.
“She just embodies everything about blackness,” Araújo says. Rather than name her blog “Negra con Tumbao,” the Miami-based maven’s mix of English and Spanish is purposeful. “I’m bicultural and I’m bilingual — I didn’t want it to be all Spanish because I didn’t want to forget my dad’s identity because I embrace both.”
For her, being in-between and traversing the two distinct cultures of her heritage comes easily. She suggests it’s outsiders of those cultures who are often the ones to make things more difficult. Simple code-switching comes inherently to those who live in both worlds.
“We always had a connection to who we were in terms of being Latin,” she says. “When we went to my grandmother’s house, I knew I would get liver and onions. When we would go to my TiTi’s house, I knew I would hear salsa, I would dance rumba, that we would dance and sing. I think it’s very important instead of separating ourselves by culture or separating ourselves by language, we should realize we’re all connected.”