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An Open Letter to Jakiyah McKoy and the Little Black Latinas

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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 after your win, know that you are a winner and no one can take that from you.

I'm writing you this letter because I am also an Afro Latina. That's what we're called because part of our roots come from Africa. We have darker skin and courser hair than our other friends. But this stuff 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 for someone so young. My love, this will happen to you over and over again in different ways and sometimes by the people who claim to be Latino/a themselves.

I know. We are all Latinos and come from places that speak Spanish, eat delicious food, and have a zest for living that few other cultures have. I understand that perhaps one of your other friends 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 beautiful and you will be seen as exotic. Some will call you ugly.

This is what happens when people label and expect people to be a certain way. When you are different, and different in a way that insults people's perceptions, you are the last person in the world they want to acknowledge. They want you to not exist. They fail to see the beauty in life and chose to see it with boundaries.

And some of this will come from the people you love the most, your own Latino community. And it will hurt. This is an issue that few 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 front and center.

But don't lose heart, lovely. There 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 from -- is becoming more accurate. There are women like Soledad O'Brien, Ilia Calderón and Concha Buika who are changing the world just by their existence. They are undeniable forces for 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. They aren't but changes are happening and that is important to understand. Changes are happening. They. Are. Happening.

And there are Latinos out there who understand. And they know. And they get it. They 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 for an answer but don't get loud and crazy in front 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. This is a gift, your super power, your secret weapon. Because you will know what it's like to be different and discriminated against, you will be able to recognize it when it happens to someone else. You'll be able to lift them up as I am doing with you. And then they will pay it back with someone else and so on and so on. This super power means you have the potential to stop this ugliness just by being you. If that is not a gift, I don't know what is.

Jakiyah, I want to leave you with this. You will have an amazing life. There is more beauty in the world than there is ugliness. Just follow 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,


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