Soul Food and Plantain: On Growing Up with a Caribbean Family in Black America

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“Are you an alien from outer space, mommy?” That was an honest question I asked my mother the first time I read the “Resident Alien” header on her green card as a child. She took that opportunity to explain to me what a green card was and why she had one. My mother is from the beautiful island of Roatán, Honduras and came to live in the U.S. when she was thirteen. She was old enough to come to the States, full of memories of life back “home,” but young enough to assimilate into life as a Black American.

Growing up we ate ox tail, beans and rice, arroz con pollo, and my personal favorite – fried plantain (I still can’t get enough!). We listened to soca music and would spend our Saturday mornings cleaning up and dancing to “Sopa de Caracol” by Banda Blanca. We slow wined to reggae music from the greats such as Bob Marley and Beres Hammond. My mother spoke to us in Spanish when we had friends over and it was time for them to go home. She also spoke to us in her accent and would say things like, “Mek ah tell enna sumting! Stop foolin’ ‘roun my nurves!” This is translated as, “Listen. Ya’ll better behave!”

I call my mom trilingual because it was Standard American English that she used most prominently in our home. She was able to turn her accent on and off in such a way that you’d never know she was from a foreign country unless she told you. In addition to all of the above, she loved country music, watched fallen American preacher Jimmy Swaggart faithfully on TV, and cooked us macaroni and cheese out of the blue box. One of my favorite American meals to this day is fried chicken, mac and cheese and yams. Mmm-mmm good!

It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized how much I didn’t know about the Black experience in America (beyond the cuisine). My mother was not interested in American politics or even Black history, for the most part. She most often made comparisons to how things were here vs. home, even though she spent most of her life in the U.S.  I was only familiar with what I knew from generic history lessons in grade school. Taking courses in Black Studies as an undergraduate helped to usher in my full sense of self and complete cultural pride.

My identity as a Black woman with a Caribbean heritage is a rich one that has provided me with an opportunity to open people’s minds about what it means to be Black in America. Countless times I’ve had to explain to people that Black people are all over the world – not just in Africa or North America; and that we come in all shades, sizes and backgrounds. This is most often in response to, “Your family is from Honduras? I thought you were Black.” Or, “How can you be Black and Honduran at the same time? Which one are you, Latina or Black?”

To those that have been desperate to put me and my family in a box to make themselves feel comfortable, I say, “Black is more.” It is more than one experience. It is more than one color. It is more than one language.  It is more than one history. It is more than one country. It is more than one dimension.

The old saying, “Never judge a book by its cover” has been a prevailing theme in my life. I seek to see beyond the surface of what people look like and try to learn their story. We have a story to tell and mine happens to be one full of flavor, pride, and beauty. I love soul food just as much as I love plantain. Both are a part of what makes me, me!

Photo credit: Web Stock Photo

Amber L. Wright, M.A.  is an adjunct professor, writer, communication coach and creator of Her personal mission is to teach you how to hear and be heard in every area of your life - from the boardroom to the bedroom. Wright’s areas of interest and expertise are in communication, relationships, marriage and popular culture.

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