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An Open Letter to Jakiyah McKoy and the Little Black Latinas
Icess Fernandez Ro jas

Note: This open letter is in response to the backlash of a little Afro Latina girl winning a pageant. The pageant was for Little Miss Hispanic Delaware. The reason for the backlash? She's black. Here's more about this story. Dear Jakiyah, Congratulations on winning Little Miss Hispanic Delaware! Despite what came af ter your win, know that you are a winner and no one can take that f rom you. I'm writing you this letter because I am also an Af ro Latina. T hat's what we're called because part of our roots come f rom Af rica. We have darker skin and courser hair than our other f riends. But this stuf f you already know because I know, even without meeting you, that you are brilliant. So, let me tell you something you don't know, something that is going to be hard to understand f or someone so young. My love, this will happen to you over and over again in dif f erent ways and sometimes by the people who claim to be Latino/a themselves. I know. We are all Latinos and come f rom places that speak Spanish, eat delicious f ood, and have a zest f or living that f ew other cultures have. I understand that perhaps one of your other f riends is also Latina. She may have lighter skin and doesn't have to straighten her hair with chemicals. You both share the same culture, but in this world, she will always be seen as beautif ul and you will be seen as exotic. Some will call you ugly. T his is what happens when people label and expect people to be a certain way. When you are dif f erent, and dif f erent in a way that insults people's perceptions, you are the last person in the world they want to acknowledge. T hey want you to not exist. T hey f ail to see the beauty in lif e and chose to see it with boundaries. And some of this will come f rom the people you love the most, your own Latino community. And it will hurt. T his is an issue that f ew people talk about much less try to correct. Look at the publications and television networks that represent us. You are hardly there and if you are, you are never the lead or f ront and center. But don't lose heart, lovely. T here is change coming. As Latinos grow and become more educated in this country, this idea of the typical Latina -- what she looks like, where she's f rom -- is becoming more accurate. T here are women like Soledad O'Brien, Ilia Calderón and Concha Buika who are changing the world just by their existence. T hey are undeniable f orces f or good and they are cracking ceilings and busting doors so that one day, the thing that happened to you and to me and other dark girls with pelos necios, doesn't happen anymore. I want to say that those changes will be quick and that in one year things will be as they should. T hey aren't but changes are happening and that is important to understand. Changes are happening. T hey. Are. Happening. And there are Latinos out there who understand. And they know. And they get it. T hey are out there, lovely. Find them. Join with them. Exist in that world because they will be there to hold you up when things happen. So, how do you deal with things when things happen. (And we both know what those things are.) Handle them like the princess you are, nena. With grace and strength. Don't take no f or an answer but don't get loud and crazy in f ront of them , that's what they expect. You must be better than you are and better than what people expect you to be.

At this point you may think that this color is a burden. Not at all. T his is a gif t, your super power, your secret weapon. Because you will know what it's like to be dif f erent and discriminated against, you will be able to recognize it when it happens to someone else. You'll be able to lif t them up as I am doing with you. And then they will pay it back with someone else and so on and so on. T his super power means you have the potential to stop this ugliness just by being you. If that is not a gif t, I don't know what is. Jakiyah, I want to leave you with this. You will have an amazing lif e. T here is more beauty in the world than there is ugliness. Just f ollow what is true and good in this world and things will work out. It may not be an easy journey but, as you already know, that doesn't make it any less worth the trip. Be well. Be incredible, Icess This post first appeared on Follow Icess Fernandez Rojas on Twitter: FOLLOW LAT INO VOICES