February is African-American History Month, and although it is important to understand and pay tribute to the many African American lives that paved the way to the country we enjoy today, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss the complexity of what it means to be Afro Latino.
It can be difficult to grasp the diversity of the Latin community, but it is important to understand that all Latinos are not made the same—from different languages to a very distinct history; and most evident of all, our race. If you are not familiar with the term, Afro Latinos are Latinos with African ancestry. It sounds simple, right? But our identity has layers as deep as the ocean. In this post, I want to lay out what it means to be Afro Latino, our history, and my thoughts on embracing our blackness.
Let me tell you the story of black Latinos.
Our roots can be traced all the way back to the Atlantic Slave Trade. The Atlantic Slave Trade started with the European settlement in the Americas, primarily in the Caribbean. The new colonies were dedicated to the agriculture of sugar cane, tobacco, cotton, and gold mining. At first, the Taínos were forced to work, but when their population rapidly started to decline (due to new sickness and hard labor); the colonists had to find another option. So they went to the easily accessible African slave market. Slavery in Africa, believe it or not, did not start with colonialism of the Americas. Europe had a long history of slavery for centuries before. Overall, more than ten million Africans were brought to the Americas; most of them were prisoners of tribal wars that were sold/traded (by fellow Africans) for weapons and European goods. We—Afro Latinos—are the descendants of those African slaves.
Unfortunately, Latinos across the board still suffer the effects of colonialism, and many Latinos still deny their African roots. The slave trade, both in Europe and the Americas, contributed to the development of racist ideas. “Afro-Latinos’ views of race are also unique. When asked directly about their race, only 18% of Afro-Latinos identified their race or one of their races as black. In fact, higher shares of Afro-Latinos identified as white alone or white in combination with another race (39%) or volunteered that their race or one of their races was Hispanic (24%). Only 9% identified as mixed race.” (Pew Research Center) It’s the constant struggle of who we really are against who we are trying to believe we are. The one part of the Latino identity that is often neglected is the African descent; “Adelanta la raza,” they always say, but beneath those words, what we really mean is that being black is no good. Examples of this are endless, to having no representation in national and international media to the constant struggle of women in hair salons para no tener pelo malo. But, why is it that we think that by acknowledging our African roots we are diminishing ourselves? Why is racism engraved so deep in our society? The racist history of colonization and the Europeans efforts to justify slavery led us to believe that the color black is less. We need to learn our history and break free from the chains that still make us slaves; clinging to ways of degradation based on the color of our skin is sabotaging our identity.
It is easier to simplify our history to conform and accept the racist patterns of colonialism and how the word is shaped today, but we need to embrace our heritage. Be proud of your hair. Be proud of your cocoa skin. Be proud of your culture. Be proud of your history. Be proud of yourself!
Because I have been curious to learn more about the topic of Afro Latinos, I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you. I hope you enjoyed reading!
Thanks for reading,
Photo by Yvette Erazo, check out her Instagram: @YE.PHOTOS