Eric Velasquez: What I have learned from navigating life as an Afro-Puerto Rican

Award-winning author and illustrator Eric Velasquez shares some of his experiences and reflections on navigating his identity and culture and as an Afro-Puerto Rican, as well as the pride he feels in bringing his family's stories to life. You can see the full interview with Eric in our Meet the Author section.


So growing up in el barrio, I think that 115th street, hundred 116th Street, a lot of people from Santurce settled there. So everyone in the neighborhood basically looked like us. So when you grow up in a certain place, that's your norm, that's normal. But the neighborhood began to change as the years went on. And for the first time, I think by the time I got to junior high school, I went to the same junior high school with my two cousins, Edgar and Edwin. We started to notice a shift. Suddenly people were like, “Are you sure you're Puerto Rican?”

I've always known I was Puerto Rican. It's like nothing has changed with us. And I remember talking to my grandmother about this, and she would always express that I should not let this bother me. So she always stressed that. We had a foundation at home and that we came from that and not to be, I guess, influenced or let these people make you think lesser of yourself. So that's what we did. We basically disregarded them and we had, let's say, our own thing and never forgetting our identity basically. And a lot of Afro-Latinos during this time actually did. Many stopped speaking Spanish.

And it was a choice because it was just easier to just then identify as African-American than to constantly be questioned and interrogated. And so a notion of disbelief, what I do see the importance of is sharing the stories of our families. That's why my grandmother is so important, because she was able to give me the strength to navigate through all of that time.

And now sharing stories of Afro-Latinos with other Afro-Latinos and the rest of the world, nothing could be more satisfying to me, kind of weathering that storm. And then coming out on the other side and sharing these great stories is, I can't express how happy it makes me.