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Cultural column: Melissa Hernandez

October 6, 2017

Lily Guillen / The Courier

Commonly, when talking about culture, it comes from one distinct grouping that one terms as one’s “culture.” From being black, to being an immigrant, to being a part of a religion, our definition of culture is pretty darn narrow. Enter Melissa Hernandez, an Afro-Colombiana proud of her ethnic and cultural background. Full disclosure, I intended to eventually talk to Melissa from the moment this column was created. She’s amazingly outspoken about her confidence in her culture, and talking about it more specifically made that incredibly clear. There is a distinct duality to being both Black and Colombian, and Melissa doesn’t just express it, she embraces it.

From the very beginning, she made it clear that she goes out of her way to embrace her identity, but notes that how she goes about it changes as she changes and evolves, which, I guess, happens with all of us. But there is a special quality of expressing one’s culture when one experiences the intersection between two identities that largely are not often afforded the luxury of self-expression. It didn’t take long to get, that at the intersection of Blackness and being a Latina existed an amazing blend of tradition and expression that Melissa draws from. From listening to salsa music to the way she wears her hair, Melissa is openly and proudly Black, Latina, and Afro-Colombiana, all at the same time. In fact, she mentions that she even listens to black spirituals from the Caribbean coast, to boot!

It’s no wonder, though. According to Melissa, learning more about who she is, and what it means to be both Black and Latina contextualizes who she is. It frames who she is today, and who she will be. This is a love that goes so much deeper than pride. The struggle of experiencing the diaspora twice over, the struggle of being the intersection of identities that have faced the brutality of being the “other,” and the struggle her ancestors faced taught her the meaning of resistance and strength. Survival can be its own kind of love.

Of course, there are more ways to express love for one’s culture than indulging in its expression. And there are a plethora of reasons to do so. If there is anything this column tries to do, it is to explain why people love their cultures. And quite frankly, there are no words I can possibly find to explain Melissa’s love for being Afro-Colombian than her own: “I love our ability to stay connected to our African roots through music and storytelling. There is so much pure happiness, love, and pride that comes through in our music, food, and dance that really is used as a tool to create community and empower future generations.”

Anthony Adams
Political Editor

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