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Santana Dempsey

California | Actress

I am mixed race and adopted.  My birth father was Afro Latino. We were told he was from Puerto Rico and Spanish was his first language. My birth mother was Caucasian.  I was born in Dallas, Texas but raised in Hannibal, Missouri.  I was adopted at the age of six out of foster care with my biological sister to two white lawyers .  Growing up in Hannibal was difficult because besides my sister no one looked like us. There were no Latinos anywhere. I barely saw anyone even on T.V. that looked like me. I don’t even know if I knew what that meant…to be Latina. It was pretty much a black and white world where I grew up and anyone in the middle had to choose to identify as either white or black. It was pretty confusing. Though, I always challenged the system never accepting that I had to choose either or. I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina my senior year in High School to learn Spanish and find more of my roots. Honestly, I needed to escape the midwest and see the world. It wasn’t until I moved to NYC on my own did I really discover who I am.  It was the first time I’d lived in a place where I felt I belonged.  It especially helped living in a city with so many Puerto Ricans and Dominicans that I could identify with and learn from.

I’m the kind of woman who loves a challenge.  I am independent to a fault sometimes rarely asking for help, believing I can conquer it all on my own. I also love to write, dance and do anything athletic. I am an adoption advocate and have worked with several different non profit organizations to bring awareness to adoption. Especially transracial adoption. I recently had a short story published in “The Beiging of America” about my foster care experience.

Although, I didn’t grow up listening to cumbia, salsa nor bomba y plena rather musicals and the Beatles, I’ve realized there are some things I didn’t need to be taught.  The moment I heard those african drums and latin beats when I was younger, my body already knew exactly how to move to the music. Almost like it was inside of me all along.

What have been your struggles as a Latina?

My biggest struggle as a Latina has been never feeling I am Latina enough.  I don’t speak Spanish fluently.  I didn’t grown up in an authentic hispanic home where my parents prepared traditional Puerto Rican meals nor told me the history of our people. Our family.  Our culture. I’ve had to learn all of this on my own. Plus, being afro-latina comes with a stigma too that I always fight against. I find It has been through the learning where I have found my strength and identity but my story looks different than most Latinas I know. I always find myself trying to blend the best I can but never quite feeling fully accepted just as I am.

What does Latina Made mean to you?

To me, Latina Made means being proud – proud of Latinas as a collective, proud of yourself as a Latin woman. It means celebrating the success of ALL Latinas and the women who made them. It means instilling that sense of pride in the next generation of Latinas and the generations to come.

What made you who you are today?

My differences.  My otherness have made me who I am.  They have taught me to fight for myself even if no one else is fighting for me.  They have shown me the importance of standing up for others in need.  To be an ally.  An advocate.  To have compassion for everyone because we all have a story.  To know my worth.  To find my own truth and never compromise.  My differences are my greatest asset and how I came to be who I am.

What advice would you give to young Latinas in our community?

Never allow anyone to tell you who you are suppose to be.  Never.  That is not their decision.  Not even your family.  It is yours alone.  You are enough exactly as you are.  I promise you.  When people are mean to you, it is simply because they don’t understand your greatness.  That is not your problem.  You keep doing you.  You keep moving forward.  You keep loving you and never for an instance think you aren’t worthy of love and your dreams.

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