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Our Voices Project

Interview with the Community Organizer at LANF, Victor Mendez Polanco

Join us for a compelling interview with Victor Mendez Polanco, as he shares his journey of embracing his Afro-Latino identity. From navigating misconceptions to proudly affirming his heritage, Victor sheds light on the complexities of racial identity in the Dominican Republic and the United States. Through personal anecdotes and professional insights, he inspires with his resilience and determination to thrive while staying true to himself.

  • Tell us how you identify yourself racially. 

I identify racially as Afro-Latino, which is Black Hispanic. This goes back to my Dominican roots and ancestry - we have Black roots in us.

  • Before coming to the USA, how did you identify yourself racially in your native country? 

I came to the US when I was 9 years old, and before coming to the US, I really only identified as Dominican because that’s all I knew. But, now, being in the US for many years, I started to realize that I am not just Dominican but also Black. 

  • How do you think people see you racially based on your experiences since you came to the USA 

I think that when I walk around in the streets, into a grocery store or a business, they see me as Black but also Hispanic. I think people typically see me as a Black Hispanic person. 

  • Have others rejected how you identify racially? 

I have had instances where my racial identity was rejected by others. For example, when I would say that I’m Black, some people would try to correct me. They would say that I’m not Black but that I am Hispanic because I didn’t come from an African country or any of your parents are from African countries. They would assume who I am as a person without trying to understand where I come from and my perspective. It's frustrating for sure that people assume where I am from and that people don’t believe you when you say I am an Black Latino.

  • Can you tell us briefly about your experiences with your racial identity professionally and personally?

Racism affects me because, when people judge based on race, I am directly impacted because most people cannot always tell that I am from the Dominican Republic. For example, a White Latino might make a negative comment about me like “mira ese moreno - no lo quiero a mi lado” not knowing that I understand them and know what they are saying.

When I started working here in the US and had to sign documents, I would look to check off racial identity as Dominican. And, because it didn’t exist often, I would often check off the ‘Other’ box for race and write in Dominican an, then later  check the ‘Hispanic’ box for ethnicity. But, as I got older, I started to self-identify as Black/African in the race box and Hispanic in the ethnicity box. I realized that I am Black and I am Hispanic and that is more reflective of who I am. And when I say I am Dominican, I also say I am Afro-Latino and I say it proudly.

  • How has being racially true to yourself helped you thrive in life? 

I’ve shared a lot of my journey from the Dominican Republic to the US. I think it’s important for Dominican immigrants and all immigrants to share stories because when I came here at 9 years old I started to watch the news and I was in school. I was in history class one day and I was watching African American history in the US - I realized that it was not going to be easy in the US. We have to understand and accept the struggle of the African American community here in the US and see how it relates to me as an Afro-Latino. In the Dominican Republic, there are misconceptions about freedom and things being ‘easier’ in the US. But, based on the history of slavery and how that relates to us as Latinos, you don’t just get given the freedom, you have to put in the work to access the freedoms. We often speak about the American Dream but it’s not given - it's earned - and our parents sacrificed and worked hard for us to access the Dream. As an Afro-Latino, I put in a positive mindset, put in the work, and stay proud of my Afro-Latino heritage. What’s helped me is the fact that I accepted my journey and my racial identity and let it motivate me to conquer my goals and reach my American Dream.

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