What am I? A topic of conversation that often arises when I meet someone for the first time. Which is why, I’m excited to explore this topic through a partnership with HISTORY for their upcoming reimagined miniseries, ROOTS. They are giving me the opportunity to really find out exactly “what am I?” and to further dive into my identity. Here’s what I know now…
I am Dominican-American. I was born in Brooklyn, NY to Dominican parents. Both my mom, Johanny Margarita Tejeda-Garcia and my dad, Sergio Mercedes, were born in the Dominican Republic. They named me, their first and only child together, Grecia Maria Mercedes-Garcia. From our names alone, you can probably guess, we are a very Latino family, something, I’ve always been very proud of. I am first generation American and with that came the balance of my home life and my school life. My parents split when I was very young and I lived with my mom, aunt and grandma after that. At home, my mom and aunt spoke to me in English, while my grandmother spoke to me in Spanish; I answered everyone in English. In retrospect, I wish my mom made me speak Spanish because now my Spanish is dreadful. I’m embarrassed and ashamed that I’m not perfectly fluent. In a sense it makes me feel less Latino.
I went to Catholic school growing up and most of my friends from kindergarten through high school were predominantly Dominican, Puerto Rican and Italian. I was Dominican and everyone was familiar with what Dominicans looked like. It was New York City and dark-skinned Latinos with curly hair and African or mixed features were common.
Then in college, at NYU, I started to meet people not from New York. People from small towns and big cities alike who saw me as black or mixed; that’s when the conversation started with my roommate Jasmin. We would talk for hours about our cultures, background, family and more. I learned from her, an African-American, the difference between race and ethnicity and that I was in fact BOTH Latina and black. When it comes to race, you’re either black or white but when it comes to ethnicity you can be a plethora of things. My race is black, while my ethnicity is Latino or more specifically Dominican. Some call it Afro-Latinos; some say black Latino, whichever you pick, the history is the same.
Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti in the Caribbean. Its history is complex, but the native Taino people inhabited it, until Christopher Columbus landed on the island in 1492. It was conquered by Spain and African slaves were brought to the island then. Because of this history, the Dominican people are very diverse or “mixed.” Hence, a lot of us look like some version of me; darker-skin tones, curly hair with “mixed” features. Ever since I moved to LA to pursue acting, my race or ethnicity has been a topic of many conversations. Unfortunately, in Hollywood, I’m not seen as “Latina-looking” enough, which is disappointing. I wish people here and all over the country would realize how diverse Latinos are and how we don’t all look like most of the actors you see on TV. (Thank you Zoe Saldana, Victor Rasuk, Christian Milian and others for starting the change!) European looking Latinos are what we see in the media more than anything. Women who look more European with fair skin and long wavy hair rather than Latinas with brown skin and curls. I honestly never noticed it growing up but as an adult, I feel like I often have to explain why or how I am Latina, which is something I sometimes resent.
With all these complexities, I’ve always been curious as to what my DNA makeup is and I’m excited to see how this new information will impact my identity. I love my Latina culture and identify with it immensely, but I want to dig deeper and really get a feel for what components make the whole me. So, I took the DNA test and will share my results in another post…so stay tuned for that! I don’t know how it will change my feelings or alter my identity but I’m exited to find out.
Thank you to HISTORY and 23andMe for partnering on this post. @RootsSeries is premiering on May 30th at 9pm ET on @History. To learn more, follow ROOTS on Twitter (#ROOTS) and Facebook, and click here to find out more.