Sophie Saint Firmin
Sophie: I am ethnically Haitian and Arab. My dad is Haitian and my mom, a Haitian American, was born in New York. They met as international students in Mexico and then moved to New York when I was five years old. I've been there ever since.
Spanish was actually my first language. By the age of five, I could speak Creole, Spanish, and English, but I never really took hold onto French, so I tried learning that in college. In Mexico, people would come up to me and ask me to take pictures with them because I was the first Black person they'd ever seen. So I knew very early on that I was… different looking.
The town I live in, a suburb of NYC, is very culturally diverse. There's a very prominent Black and Latino population there. There's also a large Orthodox and Hasidic Jew community.
I think it's really interesting because I don't feel like I'm fully anything. I'm only Mexican on paper. I'm Haitian in blood. But I am an American citizen as well. And I do feel very attached to the culture of New York.
A time I feel most connected to my "cultures" would be a time that I have a grasp on all three of my cultural pieces, like when I'm at home with my family. I have friends who come to my house and-I don't even realize when I do this-my family speaks in three or four different languages in one conversation. Because if you can't find a word in one language, you grab another language to find it. You know what I'm talking about.
Eliza: Yes, I do.
Sophie: But sometimes I feel the disconnect in every way. When I'm with my Haitian family, they're like, "Why don't you speak French? You're too American." When I'm with my Mexican family, they're like, "Sophie, you're too Haitian." So I feel like there's a disconnect in every part of my racial identity, honestly.
Eliza: Right. Because you're everything, but not fully anything.
Sophie: Growing up, when other kids told me I was different or called attention to my differences, I just remember my mom always playing this record in our car that went, "Jesus loves the little children..." She would play it every single day and have me sing along to it to have it ingrained in me.
Eliza: Because you had that mindset early on, would you say that, self-image wise, you haven't been too affected by being an ethnic minority?
Sophie: I have not. It's definitely been ingrained in me that I am always in the minority. I always walk into a room expecting to be in the minority. It's natural to me now. If I walk into a room full of Black people, that would be when I would notice myself. I was so used to being surrounded by Mexicans and being Black, I was the only Black person in my high school, and then I’m in the minority even at Asbury. So my default is knowing that I'm going to be the only one. And I'm fine with that.
Eliza: Like, it's not debilitating to you.
Sophie: Yeah, definitely. Even though I am Black, I'm learning from other Black people about their experiences even if I can't relate to them.
I think being Afro-Latino means that I'm not just Black. I think there's a lot of misconception surrounding racial groups. We think some people are White, some people are Asian, and some people are Black, but we don't understand that there are different sects within each ethnicity. Being Black doesn't just mean you're from Africa or you're African-American. Some Black people speak Spanish. Some Black people have mixed ethnicities. There are totally different cultures within each of those little subgroups.
It's interesting. I know there were some chapels talking about poverty, African American communities and the drug and crime rate. I feel like people were trying to look to me for answers. And I was like, "That's not my experience. I'm learning just like you are." That's why it's important to have a diverse group of people surrounding you because even if they do look like you, they're not going to have the same experience. That's a reason why I still have a lot of friends that are American ethnic minorities, because I'm learning from them everyday.
I would just say that it's really important for people to have an open mind in terms of who they're getting to know. Don't discredit people for what they look like or discredit people's experiences. It's important to know everybody's story because the only way that we will learn about the people around us is by investing in them and getting to know them. And that's how we can eradicate any misconceptions.
I don't think we'll ever eradicate racism. But I think we can get close by just learning to understand different people.
Eliza: Thank you.
Sophie: You're welcome.