Having a baby in 2015 was the biggest blessing I could have ever imagined. It was also one of the most overwhelming feelings I ever had. I was so excited at the prospect of becoming a mother, but yet I cried when I found out I was having a daughter. In the moment, I couldn’t articulate very well why I cried, and even now I will joke and somewhat down play why I shed a tear. If I am being honest, a large part of it was a fear of the things known and unknown about raising a black girl in this world.
Growing up in a house full of women, my mom made sure to instill in us values that insured that we knew our value and self-worth. We had to know we were a child of God, loved by our parents, intelligent, and beautiful. We were not allowed to even consider the thoughts and opinions of our friends when it came to who we were. All that being said, I was a child, in school, growing up around other children and so there were child-like insecurities.
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY in a predominantly Black community where the people were mostly from the Caribbean. Everyone in the class was of Jamaican, Trinidadian, Grenadian, Bahamian, or Bajan descent but here I was, Panamanian. At times, I wasn’t black or carribean enough for my classmates. I didn’t share or communicate about this experience much, but it was an area where I struggled to fit in. When the trend of wearing your countries flags and colors came in, no one was rocking the Panamanian flag. Though my skin looked like everyone else’s, on some days my classmates, being mean like children can be, were sure to highlight that I just didn’t fully fit in.
In my high school days I moved to New Jersey and lived in a predominantly Latin community. I just knew I would fit in here, right? Wrong! In that town I wasn’t Latin enough. My skin was too dark, my hair was too curly and my Spanish was not fluent like my peers. [My mom highlighted to me that as a child in Brooklyn, I wanted her to speak English to me. I remember as a small child being made fun of because of my pronunciation of certain words.] There was no language around being Afro-Latina, there was no Afro-Latina pride! Fortunately for me, I had my self-confidence. I was intelligent, athletic and outgoing, which certainly made up for my differences.
A clear sense of her self identity is something that I wanted to be sure my daughter had. Being in more mixed and even sometimes predominantly white community settings, I never want my child to not be clear on who she is or feel less than because she is different. For instance, my daughter has noticeably shorter hair than most children her age. Some of her classmates have hair down their back, and so when she would come and ask for certain hair styles it was important for me to show her that while she couldn’t do a certain style, her hair is still beautiful. I even showed her pictures of me as a child, bald as ever. I once had one of the teachers in her day care ask, “how come you cut her down so often?” This bugged me ever so slightly, I didn’t dignify the question with an answer nor did I bother to explain ethnic hair and how sometimes it seemed longer because I combed out her curls. But the question reminded me to be sure to teach my child all about herself because the world wasn’t going to take the time to know or understand her and her beauty.
As a woman, we are often judged on looks. In this day and age we seem more so focused on looks than ever before. Young girls are wearing make up, wigs, weaves and everything else much earlier. Young girls are now looking at body augmentation earlier than ever before. I have heard with my own ears 14 year olds discussing plastic surgery. Now don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong at all with make up, wigs, weaves, or even plastic surgery, but I want to be sure my child knows that those outward looks don’t define her nor do those things dictate her value.
My daughter is unique in the way that she approaches life. She is a bold, little, black child, and certainly says what is on her mind. She questions everything and short, generalized, indirect answers are not going to cut it for her. This is something that I welcome in her. I love that she questions things and speaks up and holds no punches. But I am also clear that our society will not always celebrate that aspect of my little black girl. I often find myself trying to find effective ways to navigate that and direct her without stifling that part of her.
She has a contagious spirit. Her love and energy illuminates the entire room when she walks in. The way people just love her sometimes amazes even me. But as her mom I get it because I love her so but I just thought maybe that’s just because I am her mom. I am blessed that everyone can see her humor and quick wittedness. There is a light in her that I pray never goes dim. As her mom, I find myself trying to protect her light at all costs. I want her to keep the childlike nature where she believes everything and anything is possible. Where she holds her head up at all times and is sure of herself. As strong and as confident as I am, I want her to be even stronger and more confident than me.
I come from a long line of strong women, my grandma was a true matriarch. My mom is also a powerful woman. She raised three strong-minded women under her and I hope to do the same. My mother put an emphasis on us being our best self. In class we needed to be at the head of it, in sports my mom, even though not a sports person would push us. I can remember her telling me to play hard in basketball, without knowing any of the lingo, and no matter how funny it came across, I got it. I want to be that kind of mother to my daughter. No matter what the activity, whether I’m into personally or not, I want to be able to encourage her to be the best version of herself.
I am thankful that while raising this daughter of mine, I have her amazing father by my side. I watch the way they love each other, and it brings me joy. The love between a father and daughter is nothing to be taken for granted. I know that his validation, support and presence builds her up everyday. What they say about daughters and their fathers is absolutely true. At times I even feel a little left out of their connection. Especially at bed time when she says “I want daddy to read to me” or “I want daddy to lay with me”. I pout at times about it but it does make me smile. I strongly believe that it is so important that the children in our community get to see and grow up in strong black families. This society often pushes the narrative that the black family is broken and does not exist but we get to show her something different than the agenda often pushed on us.
There is a conversation that naturally my daughter has 2 strikes against her. Strike one she is black, strike two she is a girl. I don’t want my daughter to be beholden to that conversation. I want her to operate as if there are no strikes against her.
My sister, who is also a mother, once asked me what do I want my daughter to know by the time she is 21 and I responded (in no particular order):
She is loved.
She is beautiful inside and out.
The sky is not the limit for her, she can burst through this atmosphere if that’s what she chooses.
She is necessary to this world.
She is necessary to her family.
She is necessary to her community.
She is God’s gift to this world.
She can do anything she sets her heart and mind to do.
She is more than enough.
There is no such thing as perfect, but she’s as close as it comes.
She is light!
I will always love her.
She will never truly disappoint me.
No matter what, I am proud of her.
She is not anyone else’s opinion of her.
This life is what you make it.
No one will ever love you more than you love yourself.
She is intelligent.
There is no one like her.
With Love, The Mother of a Black Daughter