“I was speaking to someone in my dorm, and I was telling him how I really liked acting and theater arts, and he was just like, ‘Can you act gangster?’ and I was just like, ‘What is gangster?’ I laughed it off, but I didn’t really like it, because what he described was not only what he considers stereotypical African-American but a lot of people but a lot of people in my family.”
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Kalito Luna. I'm nineteen, born in Connecticut, and I moved to North Carolina about eleven years ago. I’m Puerto Rican and African-American, 5’8”, 120 pounds.
Who is Puerto Rican, your mom or your dad?
My father is Puerto Rican.
And you identify as...?
Why do you identify as African-American? Is it a conscious decision you made?
My main reason is that it’s kind of all I know. My father was never really around, and when he was, he was never the father-type person, so I kind of identified with who raised me and took care or me and just basically what I knew. And all I knew was my mom’s side, and she was basically the sole provider, so I just knew whatever came from her, and that’s what came from her.
Have you ever had experiences of people not expecting to see you [an African-American male] when they hear your name?
Oh yeah, that has definitely happened a few times. Not often, but it has happened. They were expecting, if not long hair, really smooth hair, and not freckles, and more smooth, lighter tone type skin. Basically, the more stereotypical Hispanic rather than African-American looking or dressing. Or even my accent. Or even how I talk. They don’t expect that. And they expect me to know Spanish but of course I have no real ties with that culture.
Have you ever felt any animosity from people who expect you to speak Spanish?
Definitely. Especially the full-blooded Latinos that I encounter. They’re just like, ‘How in the world can you call yourself Spanish, you don’t know this, you don’t know that, you don’t even know Spanish words or anything like that.' I can’t really get mad at them, or at least I try not to, because they wouldn’t understand or know the reasoning behind it, or the story behind it.
Have you faced racism or stereotyping since coming to Duke?
One specific situation. I kind of blew it off earlier in the year and kind of laughed it off, but I was speaking to someone in my dorm, and I was telling him how I really liked acting and theater arts, and he was just like, ‘Can you act gangster?’ and I was just like, ‘What is gangster?’ [laughs] and he kind of described it to me, and I laughed it off, but I didn’t really like it, because what he described was not only what he considers stereotypical African-American but a lot of people in my family. And I just told him, 'that’s kind of how my family acts.' And he was like, ‘Why don’t you talk like that?’ and ‘Can I hear you speak like that?’ and ‘I wanna hear you talk to your brother like that,’ and stuff like that. And I was just like…wow.
Black men are very underrepresented in the performing arts; how has that experience been for you?
It’s been pretty much a challenge, mostly from, I would say, my family, because most of them are…I guess you could say, stuck in their ways? And so they don’t take it pretty kindly, but of course they’re not going to say ‘Oh, I hate that fact that you’re doing that,’ they just don’t support it, they don’t talk about it, they don’t think about it, they try to stay away from that subject, period. Kind of like, as if, because I dance modern dance rather than hiphop, or because I act, or something, rather than like, I guess, doing what they did or what not, they sometimes make jokes like ‘You’re not really black,’ or they’ll throw hints as if they think I’m gay or something…but like, I kind of just blow that off, also.