the (skin) deep, dark, secret

The topic of race, during my youth (let alone national pride, with the exception of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which didn’t come along until I was six) was not a subject of debate, discourse, analysis, critique, or review, nor discussion. Hardly knowing the true meaning of the parade’s historical and cultural significance. 


Knowing what Hispanic means now, I would’ve argued against the idea. My parents seemed to dance around the idea that we - especially my father - was of African descent; despite almost every facet of our culture being influenced by the African continent. Before the divorce, my father’s love for music in one that manifested into an actuality of musical performance and during my childhood he had a routine of dedicating several hours out of the week to play his maracas and enjoy his salsa records - a virtually priceless collection of vinyl dating back to the early 70s of the finest collection of afro-latin music from Puerto Rico. But there had yet to be a frank discussion on the subject of racial identity in my house - "Hispanic" merely denotes cultural affiliation, there isn’t a single race in this planet that subscribed exclusively to Hispanidad or vice versa.

Even though my father was hyper aware of his color and placement, much like our ancestors, to the point where he and his wife gave their children Standard English-American names, refusing deliberately to chose names that would register as “Latin” to be subject to the discriminatory nature of American society, and instead substituted a name that complimented the ethnic ambiguity of not only the surname of my father - Lassi - but the racial ambiguity supplied in tandem with a name of indiscernible cultural origin. Why didn’t my father, despite his “having the black experience” neglect to embrace, verbally, and embed the truthful narrative of Afro-Latinidad, properly educating his children on their cultural histories while still promoting protective mobility? This is part of the cultural/ethnic deprivation that left me misidentifying myself for a long time.

A school project during my elementary years would be the first time I received a reception into an awareness of race, colorism, ethnicity and nationality. The goal was to create some sort of demographic sheet, with our name, age, and “ethnicity” on it, I remember, with my mother’s help and supervision, creating the image of a young man - representing me - and I go to grab from the box of crayons, a color that was much lighter than my actual skin tone, and quickly my mother stops my hand. She snatches the light colored crayon and hands me the brown one. She teaches me to shade with the crayon, gently gliding the tip at an angle, very quickly, filling in the spaces on the arms, face, and hands. It wasn’t exactly brown, but somewhere in between the color of sand, and the color of honey. It looked like. You - we - are Hispanic. It was the first time I ever heard a word I could use to describe my identity beyond my name, age,  and gender.