I Found My Roots at Andrews
“I'm proud to be a Latina, and I want to be true to who I am."
I’m half Puerto-Rican, half Dominican, but I was born in Washington State. I’m also a Navy brat (without the brat); my dad worked on submarines.
My mom converted to Adventism, as opposed to growing up in the church, so I grew up in a pretty strict Adventist home. Despite this, we still incorporated elements of Puerto Rican and Dominican culture into our home, including dance, but only at home and only with our family. We’d put on Latin music and spend time together, just moving with the music. It was how I was able to know the culture of Puerto Rico despite not being there.
It was important to our parents to keep our native culture alive in us, so we spoke Spanish in the home, ate traditional Caribbean food and talked a lot about how people live in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.
Spanish is my first language, and until I was 5 years old, we spoke only Spanish in our family. Then I went to kindergarten and began using English more, and my Spanish accent naturally went away.
I attended a one-room school in a small Nordic village across the water from Seattle. We didn’t have a Spanish community in our church, so my mom and dad tried to find one elsewhere. We traveled to the Spanish church in Tacoma, an hour away, just to be part of a Spanish church community. For a while I was the only one in school with melanin in my skin.
Even though I was Hispanic and my parents always made me proud to be a Latina, it was difficult in our surroundings. I often came home crying that I was different, nobody wanted to be my friend, I was a different color than everyone else, I didn’t like being Hispanic. No one at my school had ever heard of a quinceañera. I was made fun of because all the other girls were shaving at 13 and I couldn’t because in my culture, that’s part of becoming a woman at 15—that’s part of the celebration of a quinceañera.
“The environment at Andrews has given me the opportunity to really focus on and learn more about my heritage. My experiences have helped me realize I have a beautiful culture, and I find ways to incorporate my cultural heritage into my everyday life whenever I can.”
Growing up Hispanic in a predominantly white area was challenging to me as a young teenager. I wanted to be like my peers, but at the same time I wanted to be true to my culture. I wanted to be accepted in my surroundings but I wanted to be true to who I was.
So, I had the quinceañera. I got my makeup done for the first time, I got my first set of heels, got my eyebrows done. I went to school the next day and everyone said I looked different. When I explained that I was 15 now and had passed a special milestone, it was exciting to me to get to explain that cultural tradition to them.
In academy, there weren’t very many Hispanics either, so I really didn’t pay much attention to my culture. It wasn’t until I started college at Southern that I embraced my Hispanic culture. There was a Latin America club, and they had an annual event where they celebrated all the different cultures from Latin America. I met Central and South Americans and learned more about what it meant to be Latina. I became a club officer and helped plan cultural events. Having that community helped me flourish. It helped me realize I have a beautiful culture.
I wanted to marry a Latino; I married a man who is half Dominican, half Salvadorian. We talk at home in Spanish and that’s something we want to incorporate into our family when we have kids someday. I cook traditional Hispanic and Dominican foods and we clean the house listening to Latin music. We find ways to incorporate our cultural heritage into our everyday life whenever we can.
Growing up, my parents made it a point to take us to visit our family members in Puerto Rico regularly. My parents met in Puerto Rico, so despite my mom being Dominican by blood, she claims more Puerto Rican heritage because she spent a majority of her life there.
Even in the Hispanic culture, though, there is racism. I grew up listening to people talking about how it was lucky I didn’t have “bad hair” and warning me to be careful of who I ended up marrying so my kids wouldn’t get “bad hair.” Even as a young girl I hated and straightened my curly hair. I once dated a guy who broke up with me because I wasn’t “Hispanic enough” for him. For a long time, I wanted to be someone I wasn’t.
This last year when I came to Andrews and became involved in New Life Fellowship I was exposed for the first time to the black community and learned the term “Afro-Latina.” When the #ItIsTimeAU* campaign swept the Andrews campus, I didn’t know how to react and struggled with my emotions. My roots are African, and people have thought in the past that I was black—on mission trips to India and the Philippines the locals often mistook me for one of their own—but I’ve never really dealt with it head-on before.
The environment at Andrews has given me the opportunity to really focus on and learn more about my heritage. Recently I began considering myself Afro-Latina and I want to dive into that more—I want to be proud of that.
I’m always going to be a Latina. I love my roots and the two cultures I had the privilege of growing up with, and I look forward to continuing the traditions with my future children and teaching and speaking Spanish with them. I want to learn more about my Dominican side and what it means to be Afro-Latina.
Growing up not really knowing where I fit in, and feeling a need to “act Hispanic” was a struggle. Today, I just try to be me, and do my best while giving God the glory in the process.
Jashira graduated from Southern Adventist University with a degree in elementary education in 2014. She currently works as office and co-curricular records manager for Campus & Student Life on the main campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
*For more about #ItIsTimeAU, visit andrews.edu/diversity.