Abuela: The African Roots Latinxs Don't Talk About

By Priscila Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez 

My great grandmother, on my mami’s side of the family, was black.  More specifically, my great grandmother was Afro-Nicaraguan. She lived in a country that had been pillaged and then continually ransacked by richer and subsequently greedier countries; which means that my family history is spotty.  I am indigenous, Spanish, and of African descent.  

I run through a few thoughts as I try to stand firm in my stolen heritage.  First, and foremost, I come from a culture that is drowning in colorism.  I come from a people that have worked hard to distance themselves from any trace of non-Spaniard (aka non-white aka non-smart aka uncivilized aka untamable) ancestry.   What all that means, is that my culture is both anti-black and anti-indigenous.  The Spaniards rejected the children that came from breeding Spanish blood with indigenous blood, and in this rejection, they came up with the name: mestizo.  To be mestizo is to be the “offspring of a Spaniard and an American Indian.”  This creation of this mixed identity was a very strategic way of distancing my people from the “superior” Spanish ancestry.  Because of this and many other ways of strategic distancing enacted by Spanish people, like changing last names that ended with Z’s into S’s to distinguish family lines that were not embraced by their Spanish side (ex: Martinez vs Martines), we began to believe the lie that they were telling us.  We began to see ourselves via this racial hierarchy that placed our indigenous browner ancestors at one of the lowest rungs and the more we claimed and clung to that Spaniard superiority complex, the "better" we were for it.  Colorism is a problem of colonialism.  Colorism is a product of genocide and racism enacted by the powerful conquistadores.  Colorism is learned and then perpetuated in our culturas.  

Colorism means that anything that is not white is considered less than; and places a premium on those who are closest to whiteness.  This means that black folks in our countries get it worst and while I cannot claim to even understand what it is like to grow up black in Latin America and the Caribbean, I do know what it is like knowing I have black ancestors and a black uncle and also knowing that I have never been encouraged to talk about that part of my family line.   

I found out that I have a black great-grandmother because my mom found an old picture and showed it to me and said casually: “she was mulatta.”  She did not think twice about this highly offensive term, which was used much like mestizo: to distance people from non-white heritage by categorizing them out of their blackness.  Mulatto comes from the word, mule, which actually makes a spectacle of the term and quite frankly is an ugly term to use toward people.  This is how my light skin Nica mami referred to her abuela.  When I discovered my great-grandmother was black, I was in my early 20’s, which is entirely too old to find out that you have African in your family line.  Too many school projects, ancestry questions, and so on had been asked by now to have completely denied this important part of my heritage – but here I was finding out this great detail through a casual conversation.  Colorism means that you pretend that your family line can be traced across the sea and out of the slums that we’ve placed indigeneity and blackness into.  Colorism means that you do not really know your entire family history until they begin to unveil the truth of our ancestral African roots.

I am an indigenous-presenting Spanish and English-speaking Latina living in the diaspora and the experiences I have are particular to my browness. The perception of assumed incompetence has everything to do with the color of my skin and the structure of my face.  I do not move through the world as a black person moves through the world, but, claiming my African roots is necessary in a cultura that refuses to acknowledge black people even exist through the formation of subcategories like mulatto.  This Black History Month I honor my bisabuela who will no longer be a secret or a hidden memory.  Who will you uphold this month?


Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez is a chonga Mujerista from Managua, Nicaragua currently living in Miami, FL. She recently graduated with her Masters from Vanderbilt University and is looking to take some much needed time off to refresh. She is also the founder of Latina Rebels, a blogger for HuffPo Latino Voices, and a columnist/editor at Chica Magazine. Her interests are within biopolitics as it relates to Latina embodiment, specifically concerning models of conquerable flesh around narratives of naturalization for women of color. Thus her work is around reclaiming and upholding embodied resistance, particularly within chonga and chola subcultures. Que viva la mujer!

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