DiversifYA: Guinevere Thomas

GuinevereFor this week’s DiversiTheme, we won’t be addressing an actual theme, but we will have to awesome, special interviews by Guinevere and Libertad, Afro-Latina twin sisters who talk about their experiences with diversity! Together they also blog at Twinja Book Reviews, where they discuss multiculturalism in books, and are planning to publish their diverse YA fantasy novel–THE MARK OF NOBA–this fall (read more about that here).

So obviously, I’m incredibly excited to have both here this week! Today, welcome Guinevere to the blog. Thursday, Libertad will join us! Yay! 😀

1. How do you identify yourself?

First and Foremost, I consider myself to be American. A true American who was born and raised here and knows nothing else. I am the proud descendant of African (most likely Yoruba) descended Cubans. But I always feel American.Racially, I consider myself to be black. I have dark skin, cute kinky hair and features that resemble a “negrita” as we say in spanish. But culturally I would have to say that I have a close connection to my Cuban heritage.

2. What did it feel like growing up Afro Latina?

It was very different outside the Cuban community. In Miami, where I lived for many years, I rarely questioned my identity, but when I moved to the North east being Latina meant you were light skinned and Puerto Rican or Mexican. And the small percentage of black Puerto Ricans you did see didn’t consider themselves black. Sometimes my Latin American brothers and sisters forget or choose not to acknowledge that many aspects of our heritage is rooted from Africa. Our dances, our music and our faith are all remnants of our African ancestors. I often get from Non Cuban Latinos that I don’t look Cuban.Or my heritage is always questioned because people confuse being Afro-Latina as having one Black parent and one Latino one. That isn’t wrong however I am not bi racial or mixed. Both my parental and maternal sides are black, they just happen to hail from Cuba. Being Afro-Latina growing up was like being invisible, we just didn’t exist. So to make things easier, I solely identified with African American until I got into my 20’s. It was a whole lot of less explaining.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

The biggest challenges are that both Black Americans and Latino Americans have a hard time trying to grasp that i’m not one or the other but both. Many want you renounce one to embrace the other but I’ve explained to many strangers and others i’ve known personally that I just can’t do that anymore. I spent my entire teenage years keeping it less complicated. Identifying as just African American, but as I grow older I’ve learned that I don’t have to be embarrassed to be different than other African Americans. Besides all my black friends growing up loved eating over my house. Arroz con Pollo, Guava empanadas, Frijoles Negros? What’s not to love?

The perks to being a Black woman and a Latina woman?I would have to say that since I’m both it’s easy for me to connect with women or people of these two identities. Being black and being Latina are synonymous to me. To be both is something I don’t take lightly, it’s made me a stronger person and it’s made me a stronger writer.

4. What do you wish people knew about being Afro Latina?

I just wish people knew we existed. Ever time someone asks me about my heritage, it turns into this really long history lesson. I wish people could realize that like American culture, we were born into. It’s not something we’re faking or trying to steal. Latin culture is just as much a part of us as African culture is.

Just as many blacks live in all of Latin America (large concentrations in Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama and Colombia) if not more than the USA.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

Well the crappy part about being a black latina is that we are pretty much underrepresented, voiceless and pretty much nonexistent. Even Afro-Latin actors like Zoe Saldana (Colombiana), Gina Torres (I think I love my wife), Laz Alonzo (Jumping the Broom) or Tatyana Ali (Fresh prince of Bel air)rarely get the chance to play a Latin person because they have dark skin and to the media to look latino is to look light with long manageable hair. People want to ignore that there were more slave ships that arrived in Latin America than in the Continental USA. So even though there aren’t many bad stereotypes, it’s at the cost of not having a voice in Media and history.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

If you are confused about how to go about writing diverse characters the best thing to do is to consider all walks of life as well as how environment affects how people behave socially and how their speech will be.  In fact, something way more helpful is a blog post I wrote on my writing blog. It features ideas that may be helpful on writing about characters that are different than you “norm”. Incorporating diversity in fiction is not hard so make it fun!