Monday, May 21, 2012

Undercover Afro-Latinos

Any one or more of these young men could be Latino, but how would you know if they keep their heritage private while assimilating into the African-American community?
Antonio, a long time friend from Central America is of African heritage, and of course, speaks fluent Spanish. He blends well with African-Americans; after all, he was married to one, and his children are totally assimilated into the African-American community. However, with my being an admirer of Afro-Latino cultures, it's quite evident to me how Antonio tends to minimize his Latino heritage in his communication with others, and even with other Latinos. 
One evening, for my birthday, he took me to see an Afro-Peruvian dance performance, and I, not him, was the one engaging with the Peruvians who were present. For this event, I was wearing a t-shirt reflecting Afro-Peruvian culture as a conversation piece while circulating among the crowd. It worked as Antonio simply observed me with fascination as I answered people's questions in Spanish who thought I myself might be Afro-Peruvian. He showed no interest in engaging with others, besides eavesdropping. 
I've always been outspoken about the African presence in Latin America at local black heritage events and in my Toastmasters meetings. I feel that a lot of African-Americans, and surprisingly many Latinos, need to be educated to the fact that we African-Americans are not the only black population in the western world. In fact, we are indeed a minority because an overwhelming majority of the slaves ships went to Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries almost 100 years before they started coming the U.S.
When Antonio and I first met, I asked him why he is so reluctant to assert the Latino side of his heritage. Antonio only gave me a vague answer, and to this day, I still do not understand. He is not the only person of Latin-American heritage who tries to keep it on the down-low. I've seen Latinos of all colors do it, and I'm wondering why. I brought this topic up in a forum of which I'm a member, and here are are some of their comments: 
Dora: Sometimes you just don't want to be the representative educator. It's exhausting, and other times, it still doesn't matter. Adults with narrow minds will continue to have it.  I don't always broadcast my background unless I need to. My mother does the same. I usually lay low in Spanish speaking establishments to see if they'd talk !@#$ about me.
Rob: It could be that she identifies more with just being “black” due to discrimination she may have experienced in her country. I've had Afro-Latinos friends who  say that they were treated as second class citizens and not welcomed as fellow Hispanics, so they just align more with being “black.” 

Carlos: In America, so-called Black Latinos have to assimilate. We don't have a choice. Like my man Laz Alonso said, he is Cuban inside his house and African American outside. Its just the way it is in the US. 

Ayana: My dad is from Dominica, and my mother from St. Lucia,raised in French Guiana. When I started grade school I went to a school where the kids were mostly South American and Eastern European. My best friend was Colombian and I do have distant Colombian heritage as well. I speak Spanish fluently. I was always treated equally among my peers. 

In the 5th grade I went to a different school that was predominantly African American, West Indian, and Puerto Rican. I was treated horribly by the African Americans for being "an Oreo," a "Spanish girl wannabe," and other interesting things. One time, I got kicked in the head and blacked out.
I was very sorry to hear about Latinos who were severely persecuted in their youth by their African-Americans peers who resented their being different. That brings to mind of a black Panamanian who grew up in the hood in West Oakland. He told me that keeping his Latino heritage on the down-low was about survival and fitting in. 

Rob's comment about Afro-Latinos not being welcomed by fellow Hispanics suddenly triggered my memory of Juan, from Venezuela, who could not get a job in Venezuela after finishing journalism school because of his color. He then told me how Spanish-speakers in the U.S. would often answer him in English because they could not relate to a black guy speaking Spanish. This, of course, drove him closer to African-Americans.

I've known Antonio for over 10 years, and he never mentioned any of the abuses, mistreatment, or discrimination stated above. In fact, he seldom discusses his experience as an Afro-Latino, although at times, I've heard him talk about his background as Garífuna, a descendant of escaped African slaves who assimilated with indigenous people of Central America. Even then, he keeps such discussions to a minimum, even with me knowing that I'm planning trips to a couple of Garífuna villages. 

As one member of the forum puts it, there are many things out there that influence people's decisions to downplay an aspect of their heritage. My feeling is that people need to be made aware of the diversity in the “black” community. Right here in the U.S., I've met blacks who speak English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Dutch; not to mention the various languages and dialects from the Caribbean and the African continent. My blog, African-American-Latino World, is only a minor contribution to promote this awareness.


  1. I feel compelled to comment on this subject even though I know you normally don't comment on old posts.

    Both my parents are Panamanians with grandparents who were Jamaican. I was born in the US. My grandparents were a direct result of the blatant racism of Panama of the 1940's that removed Panamanian citizenship of Caribbean’s born in Panama. When my grandparents got the chance, they fled and relocated to NY. In NY, they were considered people from the Caribbean due to their strong English-Patois accent. They kept it like that. When black Americans realized we could speak Spanish, they were mean...very mean to us. I can't tell you how many times black Americans would say to us, "You ain't black" reference to something we did or didn't do. Meanwhile, we sought refuge in the Afro-Panamanian community of NY.
    To this day, black Americans expect me and my family to "act black" when certain situations arrived. However, we are now doctors, nurses, managers and more, doing just fine as Ameripanamacians!

    1. Hi Bicycle,
      First of all, I read all comments to all posts :-) An e-mail is sent to me with your comments. I screen it, then publish it.

      I am well aware of the ignorance among many African-Americans (not all, thank goodness), which is one of the reasons for my blog. As a native New Yorker, I'm surprised because I thought New York City African-Americans were more aware of the African diaspora.

      I don't know if you read my other post where an African-American woman doubted my blackness because I had Latin-American photos on my office wall alongside African-American photos:

    2. @Bicyclemamy

      I never assimilated into the AA community..there's NO WAY I would EVER do that..what for? It isn't my culture. It isn't my heritage. All we share is our "race" and racism other than that..zilch! These are the haters I was referring to in my last comment. Whenever I come across an AA spouting ish, I point out the book color complex by Kathy Russels, Asian hair weaves they spend millions on yearly and the film "Good Hair" by Chris Rock, stats on black on black crimes, skyrocketed single mother households (dead beat dads) among their community. The massive inferiority complex in their community is highly negligible that they should cease focusing on how other Non Africans American blacks should identify and they should focus on their issues.

  2. I'm an Afro-Puerto Rican..and I do NOT downplay my culture, my heritage for NO ONE. No amound of abuse from any members of any group will make me throw in the towel just because they hae an issue with with any part of MY identity. Actually I have had some light skinned (olive color) I've come across some Puerto Ricans who have taken offense when I also identify with my blackness. They've said, "You're Puerto Rican, period." Not because they were trying to deny that part of me but because it wasn't necessary. Racists are every where and then there are those who aren't as well. Then you have haters in every group who hate themselves wholly and so deeply that they want to take away certain aspects of others because they themselves ***desire*** those aspects. I have seen them all.

    1. “All we share is our "race" and racism other than that..zilch!”

      I agree with everything you said with the exception of your above statement. I've visited black communities in Cuba, Central, and South America. I have not been to Loiza Aldea YET, but that is on my list of places to visit. Black people in the Western world, be they English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, French, or Dutch-speaking, have the same West African roots.

      Wherever our African ancestors went, be it the USA, Puerto Rico, or Martinique, they adapted to the culture of their slave masters, and even took on the names of their slave masters. What interests me most though is how West African music evolved into Bomba and Plena when slaves arrived in Puerto Rico, the Blues when slaves arrived in the USA, and Zouk when slaves arrived in Martinique. We have different cultures but the same roots.

      Therefore, Mr. anonymous African-Boricua, despite our differences and despite our issues in our respective communities, we are still “brothas” and “sistahs.” Un abrazo :-)

  3. "Your comment will be visible after approval"

    Interesting. I thought I read somewhere in your blog that you don't mind comments since this is what this blog is for and that this is how people "learn" from each other. I guess it all depends on the comment you prefer others to read to fit your own agenda.

    1. All comments are screened for spammers. I don't care what you opinion is, if it relates to the topic, it will be posted.


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