- Author: Janitza Vasquez
Growing up all of my friends were black, so it came to no one’s surprise that I gave birth to black sons. What did come to many’s surprise is that I refer to them and raise them as black boys. Let me further explain, it is assumed that because I am Latina, that I would refer to them as Hispanic. I am also a single mother, which would make many assume that I would raise them solely on my culture, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love everything about my culture, and I am a proud Latina woman but I have black sons.
First, I would like to point out that as a Dominican woman, my race is composed from the Taino tribe, Spaniard Europeans and Africans. Meaning, my sons do not only get their blackness from their fathers but also a part of their mother. So when people tell me that I think that I am “black” because of the company I keep or because of how I refer to my sons, they are missing a key piece. Technically, I AM. The first part of celebrating my son’s blackness is by embracing mines. Now does that mean that I don’t speak Spanish to them, want them to pick up on the language or that I will not instill the amazing traditions of my culture, absolutely not. What it means is that I not only embrace my culture but I also celebrate theirs.
How do I celebrate them? With my oldest, I celebrate him by telling him how amazing his black features are, and correcting him when he dismisses them. For example, he’s big into the youtube world (like most kids his age are) and he made a comment that he wanted hair like the boy he was watching. The little boy was a white boy, with a slick side comb over. I had to explain to him that he will never have hair like that, but that’s okay because his hair was great. And then I pumped him by telling him how fly he looks with his haircut. Sure, the little white boy’s hair was cool but his hair is also cool. I also correct him when he refers to me and his little brother as white, because we are fair skin. It’s important to me that he understands that race is more than skin deep, and that he knows black comes in all colors.
I also have recently decided to make it a point to start discussing black history with him because he’s getting to an age where he can really understand things. And no, I haven’t decided to do that just because Black History month is among us, but because of a conversation we had in the car one morning. A few weeks ago, he asked me if I knew who the man on the dollar bill was and I responded with “George Washington”, his response was “Yelp, that was the 1st president of the United States”. Honestly, I was pretty impressed that my 5 year old knew that but it also led me to ask him if he knew who Martin Luther King was. I asked because Martin Luther King day was a few days away and he knew that he would be out of school on Monday, so I was curious if he knew why. His response, “No, who’s that?” I was taken away by it because I didn’t understand when the opportunity came up for a Kindergartener to learn about George Washington but not Martin Luther King. I had to remind myself that son attends a very small private school, with white leaders. With this being the case, I shouldn’t be surprised that they do not prioritize black history. However, I chose to send him there because of the small classroom sizes and academics, and I feel the positives outweighs the negatives. So what that means for me is that I have to step in, and teach him myself about black history.
Lastly, I make it a point to put things in front of my son that are positive representations of himself and what he looks like. That means making sure that he’s watching tv shows, movies, youtube families that look like him and his family. Our family is a huge fan of the new Spider man Miles, because it took one of his favorite characters and made it relatable to him. The first time he watched it, he shrieked”Mommy, that’s me because Miles daddy is black like my daddy and his mom speaks Spanish like you.” He was able to connect with Miles, which to me was a beautiful moment. It also means buying books and reading stories where the main characters look like him. His favorite book to date is, “Kingdom of Me” which is a customized book I got for him 2 years ago that made him the main character.
I chose to celebrate their blackness because that’s who they are, and that is what makes them beautiful. I want them to know that despite the narrative America tries to paint, they are powerful. I know that as they get older, I will have to have very tough conversations with them about race, discrimination and the unjust things they will witness as black men. So my goal is to celebrate them daily by so that when they go out into the world, nothing can break their spirits.