DiversifYA: Libertad Thomas

LibertadFor 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! Last Tuesday, we had the lovely Guinevere on the blog. Today, Libertad joins us! Yay! 😀

1. How do you identify yourself?

I’d like to say I identify most with being a product of the human race, But if you want to talk Nationality, I have to look outside my parents culture and call myself an American. I was born here and know no other way outside the American lifestyle. But if we get into the topic of race and culture, I will proudly say that am a Cuban American with dominant African ancestry.

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

Well in my experience, the term Afro-Latina wasn’t something you went around calling yourself. You were either black or Latina. Never both. Many people don’t understand what being Latina of African ancestry is. As if the act of slavery was limited to just the USA. So often I felt confused on how to explain my identity to others. If I called myself Latina (and nothing else), it was like I was saying to the world that being black was something to ashamed of, but to call myself a black American was forgetting the customs, values and mysticisms of Cuban culture i grew up with. It wasn’t until my 20’s that I realized I had to stop fighting myself on what I wanted to be and start accepting who I was; and that was being both a Latin person and a black person.

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

The biggest challenges are because most people have in their head that all Latino people are fair to medium toned, I often find myself explaining to a lot of less educated people that the act of slavery found it’s way throughout a large percentage of Latin America. That the same reason that blacks can be considered American, is the same reason why blacks can be considered Brazilian or Colombian. The major thing that differs from our history is what language the conquerors spoke and what country they came from.

The perks? Being able to identify equally with both black Americans and Latin Americans. Oh and eavesdrop on people’s conversations. You would be surprised to hear the things people say about you or other people when they don’t know you can understand them.

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

That being black and latina is no different than being black and American. Or black and british. Being a black Latina is a unique experience that allows me to embrace my african heritage and celebrate my cuban culture.To some being Afro-Latina is being bi-racial, black and latina. To others like me, it’s having two black parents that hail from Latin America.

Also a lot of American people like to label Latino people as “Spanish” because of the equal language that is spoken, but that’s like calling myself English because I speak English. Spanish is an umbrella term people usually call spanish speaking people but depending on the country, few of latin americans are actually of Spanish descent. The Spanish identity is so different from the Latin American identity. And Latin Americans would be surprised to know that even people from Spanish hardly call themselves Spanish. They refer to themselves as the region they are from e.g Catalan, Basque, Galician and so on.

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

Well with being Afro-Latina, there aren’t many stereotypes that differ from being a black american. That we’re inferior, that we’re loud, that we’re angry. In novelas (Spanish soap operas) the light skinned European descended are always successful, the object of everyone’s affection and smart. Whereas the black actresses are cast as plain girls or maids and are often uneducated. In the USA, Black Latinos are almost non existent. There’s a Latina author who is trying to make her very successful book into a movie and is having issues with studios because they want to eliminate her black latina characters. Why? Because it confuses America she’s been told.

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

I think my biggest issue with writers that are afraid to write a “black” character, or a “disabled” character or a “gay” character is that they think that by them not sharing that “identity” with the character, they can’t possibly write something with a minority well. So because they already have that preconceived notion, they don’t even bother at all. My advice, if you’re trying to make a universal character don’t write one based on their background, race, mental state or sexual preference. All those details can come in your second draft. Just write a story that you’re passionate about and later on in the second or third draft, ask yourself: Does this particular character have to be white/straight/able bodied/male? Will it really make the story less relatable to alter minor details about the appearance of the person leaving the rest of the story in tact?Is it a love story?Asian people fall in love too! A mystery? It’s not as if every mystery has to be solved my heterosexual males. Steampunk? Why can’t the lead character be adventurer in a steam operated wheelchair?

One Response to DiversifYA: Libertad Thomas

  1. Thanks for having me on your blog!!