20 pages • 40 minutes readElizabeth Acevedo
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The Dominican Republic is located in the Caribbean on the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola (called “Quisqueya” by its early Taíno inhabitants); it shares the island with Haiti. The speaker in “Afro-Latina” is a child of the Dominican diaspora, the movement of Dominicans back and forth between the Dominican Republic and the United States, particularly to Northeastern cities in New York and New Jersey.
The speaker’s ambivalence toward her cultural identity is rooted in the history of the Dominican Republic—as that history is central to European colonialism in the Western Hemisphere, she struggles to reconcile the violence with her heritage. In 1492, Christopher Columbus took the island from the Taíno people on behalf of Spain, marking the start of European conquest of Indigenous territory in the Americas and the Caribbean. Spanish colonial policies maximized the extraction of resources through forced labor and intensive agriculture on plantations, and this destroyed Indigenous culture and people. The European colonists not only brought diseases that precipitated fatal epidemics—they also enslaved the people they took from Africa, binding them in chattel slavery (a form of slavery in which people are enslaved in perpetuity and treated as moveable property). Indigenous women and women of African descent alike were subjected to sexual exploitation and rape, resulting in descendants of Spanish, African, and Indigenous racial heritage, hence the speaker’s feelings of shame regarding her ancestry.
By Elizabeth Acevedo