written by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Bianca Laureano
I am the daughter of an artist and teacher/social worker. A daughter of “hippie” immigrants who grew up in a multi-lingual home that was filled with creativity, music, and love. I am the eldest of two children. My parents migrated from Puerto Rico after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and institutions of higher education needed to “brown” their campuses. My father was granted a full scholarship to receive a Master’s degree in Fine Arts at American University in the early 1970s. My parents married after a “traditional” courtship of group dates (i.e. chaperoned by older siblings) and migrated to Washington, DC together. Only my mother spoke English. Five years later they planned to have me and they did. My sister came 2 ½ years later.
Surrounded by art in all dynamic and various forms, our home was small, but filled with instruments, records, paintings, sculptures, and books about art and music. I grew up speaking three languages: English, Spanish, and Spanglish. My parents, who were both raised Catholic, chose to raise us agnostic. We still celebrated several holiday’s as some cultural rituals were tied to such times, but never were we forced or expected to go to services unless that was a choice we made.
Although nudity and bodies were in the images I saw in our home on the walls and in books, the body and how it functions was not discussed. I learned very quickly that in my immediate family I did not “fit in” physically. My physical features (aside from my 6 ft stature which I got from my 6ft 3inch father) are far from similar to any family members. The one family member I do resemble is a cousin who was adopted. I have never doubted that I am a member of my family; I just didn’t fit in physically. My hair is far more curly and alive than that of my mother and sister (we call it “pelo vivo”), my facial features are broader and wider, and my skin color is darker and scars/tans/heals differently from my family.
One of my earliest childhood memories is of my curls being cut off my head and watching them drop to the floor. The end result was a very short “pixie” haircut that made my hair look straight. At the time I cried for fear people would think I was a boy. Today I know it was more than just fear of folks confusing my gender identity and expression.
I identify as a LatiNegra, a woman of Color, Afro-Puerto Rican, Black, Other, Caribbean and Latina. I am the only member in my family who identifies as such. The rest of my family racially identifies as White, but ethnically identifies as Puerto Rican/Latino. Growing into my body was something I do not think my parents were prepared to help me with. I do not know if they were expecting to raise a woman of Color. My otherness is what brought me to a field that is also “othered” in our society and around the world.
I am a sexologist. Growing up in what is technically the south (DC and Maryland are below the Mason Dixon Line), and to immigrant parents, conversations about the liberation of Puerto Rico, were abundant, yet conversations about sex and sexuality were not. Almost all of my friends and schoolmates from high school are parents. Many of them became pregnant in their teenage years. I am not among my peers.
When young Latinas and Black women were becoming pregnant around me, I did not relate to their experiences of wanting a child at that time. I don’t know exactly what it is my parents did or did not do that resulted in me not becoming a teenage parent. With no conversations about sexuality, limited information about my body from my parents, and no discussion of emotions and hormonal changes, I found myself sneaking peaks into my mother’s copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves and The Joy of Sex.
When I graduated high school I knew I wanted to go into the field of sexual science and went directly to the local state university where I studied Latino and Caribbean women’s health. I found mentors and applied to graduate school and was accepted to one of the only programs on the east coast focusing on sexuality: New York University’s School of Education and earned my Master’s degree in Human Sexuality Education. By this time I had already been working in the field as a health educator for about five years. I went back to school when Bush was “reelected” and have a second Master’s degree in Women’s Studies with a focus on race and racialization, bodies, genders and sexualities. Today, I have been a sexologist for over a decade and my work focuses on youth of Color, youth who are under-resourced, in the child welfare system and/or the juvenile justice system.
I have worked for national and local organizations, and today live in New York City where I am an instructor with both the CUNY system and private colleges. I am also a professional sexuality educator and consultant. My expertise is in creating curricula for youth of Color and working-class youth that incorporates popular culture, media, art and music. I recognize that not everyone learns in the same way, and that the bodies are not valued in the same way in this country. Although I am not a parent, I have been mentoring a young woman, Candy, for over 15 years. Candy and I met when she was in first grade and I was in tenth grade. Today, Candy is in college and pursuing a dual degree in computer science and women’s studies.
You can read more about me on my personal website www.BiancaLaureano.com and the site that I host www.LatinoSexuality.com . I look forward to providing information and facilitating conversations about sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, gender and other dimensions of difference as well as hearing about your challenges and successes around these topics!