I've identified as Puerto Rican my whole life. Growing up in the Bronx and later moving to the Upper East Side (borderline Spanish Harlem) in Manhattan, I'd reluctantly but proudly say I'm Puerto Rican whenever someone got nosy and asked "What are you?" I'd resist the urge to sarcastically mumble Human, obviously. "No, but where are you from?" Some people are real persistent. And in my adult life some people still ask. Most recently my uber driver asked me where I was from. I'm from here. That was a lie. I was in Jersey and I am not a Jersey girl, no sir. "And your parents?" Sir, I get it. You're confused and want to know why my Russian name doesn't match my face. Puerto Rico. "Oh, Puerto Ricoooo."
I've always known that my roots, my bloodline, is a blend of Taino, African, and European ancestry. This explained my skin with a tinge of Burnt Sienna. My frizzy curly hair that was too curly for my mom to comb regularly but too "good" for the Black girls in school. My wide but not too wide nose, the kind of nose they told me to squeeze to shrink. This majestic mix explained my inclination to move my feet and sway my hips to the congos. Growing up Puerto Rican meant the melody of African drums every time mom cleaned the house; salsa songs with long instrumental breaks meant for you to break. it. down. WEPA! Puerto Rican was the aroma of sofrito and tocino in the kitchen, dried beans soaking in water for dinner later; my mother, her head adorned with a white scarf, barefoot, looking like una madama; a sense of spirituality engrained so deep in me it's a way of life, and I still light candles and stomp my feet to get rid of negative energy. Buena energia is everything. This is Puerto Rican. I have never felt European. I knew the Spanish destroyed the beautiful island my parents call home so no, I didn't grow up identifying as European but I grew up being called "White" girl.
I haaaaated being called "white girl." I still do. I'm not white. You see, "white" is a different culture. As a kid I didn't understand why so many positive things were attributed to the white culture and inherently NOT Puerto Rican, things like: literacy, studying, showing interest in your education, or appreciating cuisines from different cultures. Strange, right? These things were white so being called white was a consequence of me preferring to curl up with a book every opportunity I got or getting good grades. Or speaking standardized English. But no, I don't and never did identify with being white and I never have and never will benefit from white privilege (though I acknowledge my privilege lies elsewhere). Yet somehow even in adulthood I fight the same battles I did as a child. Sasha thinks she's white. Why are you so bougie? Hanging out with those white girls you think you're white. "What white girls?" is usually my response. Oh, you and your "education." What you white now? I find it disturbing that I still have to combat this ignorance. As proud of being Puerto Rican that I am, I still have to listen to this self-hating nonsense, sometimes from other adults (and mostly family).
So imagine my shock when I found out that according to an AncestryDNA test my DNA is 56% European. So I am white? No.
This goes to show that my blood is a magical mixture of Taino, African, and European DNA and a depressing result of the Spanish eradicating the Tainos and forced African slave labor on the island of Puerto Rico. I am a consequence of the Spanish taking advantage of a rich land, removing the "rico" from "Puerto Rico", the anguish the Tainos felt as their numbers disappeared forever, and the brutal exploitation of Africans. It is not a beautiful history, but nothing has been more beautiful than growing up Puerto Rican and that means having DNA that is 56% European, 17% Native American, 26% African, and not being white.