STYLE ME GRASIE » fashion & lifestyle blog by grasie mercedes

what am I?

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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 [email protected] 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.

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  • Yobella Gabriel

    This is such a lovely topic and it kinda made me realized about diversity more. Thank you for that. It was also such a lovely story you shared there about your background.

    I, myself have more Chinese features (monolids, small eyes, yellow-ish skin-tone, etc) but I’m actually an Indonesian. Usually, the original people of Indonesia have this big eyes, with large lids and darker skins. at times, when I didn’t speak in Bahasa and I acted like a tourists, people would mistaken me as a non-Indonesian. Which in a way kinda flatter me but also upsets me.

    Anyways, your post is really great and it inspires me to write one myself in the near future (which I hope you won’t mind). That’s all I’ve got to say I guess? Sorry for this long comment, lol. Have a nice day!

    xx

    Blog || Instagram

    • Hi Yobella! OMG I don’t mind at all and encourage you to write about it! And I love your long comment! It’s very thoughtful. Plus, it’s a long post so makes sense that your comment is longer 😉 xoxo

      • Yobella Gabriel

        Really? Aww thank you! Alright, some time in the future I’ll write about it, I’ll even tell you when it’s posted, since you’re the inspiration! Thanks again hahaha ;D xoxo

  • Daniela Ramirez

    loved this babe! I love how proud you are of your roots…F*ck latino-esterotypes !

    • Aww thanks mama! Love you!

  • Celine Scatton

    This was such a great post! I felt like I was reading about myself! Being half Latina, but predominantly exposed to that side of my family, I’ve always felt more Latina. I never however questioned the difference in race and ethnicity much like your friend Jasmin. So the same description I always when ppl ask what am I. I too want to find out the crazy plethora of things in my DNA that make me ME. Ahh I so hope to meet you one day☺ #afrolatinas #nychicas #brownisbeautifultoo 🇵🇦

    • YES YES YES! Love this! Thank you for the comment! I’m glad you could relate to the post! xo

  • Elise Vasquez

    Thank you for writing this post! This is awesome. I can totally relate. I moved to the states from Dominican Republic
    when I was in elementary school. The
    elementary school I attended was predominately Caucasian and African American
    with some Hispanic sprinkled in. I was
    often asked if I was mixed and always got a weird reaction when I spoke (due to
    my accent). Like you I was not light
    enough to be identified as Latina or Hispanic. I always identified myself as Latina, however I
    often felt out of place. I was too dark
    to be Latina and not American enough to be African American. It’s a struggle.

    I too did the DNA test to find out what exactly I am? Should be interesting!

    Good luck with your career, you’re an inspiration!

    • Thank YOU!!! For sharing your story! I love that you can relate. Let me know what your DNA test says!!! I reveal my results on Friday! xo

      • Elise Vasquez

        Definitely will share my results once I receive them. Can’t wait to see your results on Friday. I’m curious. 🙂