By Palabra, NJ
Where are you from?
It’s a question that Franchela Ulises hears often in Arizona when she speaks in Spanish. In her native language.
She is used to the question. But she’ll never get used to the strange looks from others when she’s in public. She’s seen that look at the grocery store or at the park when she’s with her kids and they’re all talking in Spanish.
Sometimes she laughs it off. Other times, she lets her frustration flow.
Franchela was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her parents are from the Dominican Republic.
In the country of her parents, Franchela doesn’t attract attention. Here in Arizona, in a desert state on the border with Mexico, a Black woman who speaks Spanish is watched with curiosity and sometimes reveals the prejudice toward people who share her heritage.
Facing discrimination. Not feeling recognized, included or accepted as an Afro-Latina. It’s exhausting, she says.
Franchela channeled her frustration into creating “Mujeres of all Shades.” The organization helps women of all races and cultural and ethnic backgrounds champion their own style, their own identities, their own expressions of beauty and brilliance.
She’s cultivating a collective of women who are changing the fashion industry to be more inclusive of what women want and how they want to be seen and heard.
Together, they fight for confidence and self-esteem and against stereotypes about beauty, race and gender. For Franchela, it is a movement.
She has three daughters. She wants them to see more Afro-Latinas represented on television and other media.
On a cool day in downtown Phoenix, Franchela is posing for photos and speaking in Spanish and English. She explains what life is like for Afro-Latinas in Arizona.
She fixes her hair and adjusts her jacket with splashes of vibrant colors from lime green to indigo blue. She crosses her legs and sets aside her Gucci bag.
Looking at the camera with the confidence of a Hollywood star on stage, a model on the runway or mama with three babies, she smiles and says: “I’m Afro-Latina.”
She releases a mischievous laugh adding, “I’m a little bit of everything.”
Franchela is 30 years old. She tries to explain how she defines herself, shows her identities in simple, straightforward ways that still seem so complicated in the eyes of people who do not know her cultural mix and her roots.
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