A Latina 'Comes Out' as Black

In an interview with NPR, a high school student explains how she sorted out race, culture and identity. 

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Elaine Vilorio (NPR)

Elaine Vilorio, a high school senior who is originally from the Dominican Republic, recently wrote a Huffington Post piece titled "Coming Out as Black." 

It's not as if it was a big secret that she had African ancestry. Rather, Vilorio says, she simply wasn't raised in a way that encouraged focusing on it. When she stopped straightening her hair and started getting more questions, she was forced to ask herself what her heritage meant to her.

In a conversation about an experience that we're sure isn't at all unique, given the country's racial demographics, she talked to NPR about how she's beginning to make sense of her "Afro-decadency" and "Hispanic identity."

HEADLEE: First of all, let me ask you, why did you phrase it that way, coming out as black?

VILORIO: Well, people have always asked me, you know, like you said, you know, if I was black consistently, and I've always denied that. So I thought that was a very fitting way, a very dramatic way to say that I finally have admitted, you know, this Afro identity, so to speak, when it's always been there. Coming out, I finally can say it out loud, and I can finally explain to people, yes, I have African roots in me and that's okay.

HEADLEE: Well, when you talk about racial identity, it's something you've written about quite a bit as well.

VILORIO: Yes.

HEADLEE: What is racial identity for you? Is it about the way you see yourself or how others see you?

VILORIO: I mean, it's a combination of both. I think people perceive me and they separate Afro-descendancy from, you know, the Hispanic identity. Hispanic identity doesn't really take into account that African racial root. You know, I see myself as a predominantly black Hispanic. And then other people, you know, they just see a mixed person, just mixed. Blackness isn't really, you know, acknowledged.

HEADLEE: You know, the Dominican Republic has kind of an uneasy relationship with race and ...