AFRICANGLOBE – Blackness complemented by Spanish-ready speech is confusing for many, and it immediately prompts questions of nationality, language, status, and ethnicity. Afro-Latinos in the U.S. and abroad are often approached with skepticism and exoticism; their skin-tone and speech forcing them into a position of “other,” and often, they gain discrimination from both the Latino and Black communities.
Lodged in the traction of cross-culture and discrimination, the Afro-Latino experience is muted in many countries, despite rich cultural and musical influences. Afro-Latinos finds disparagement from the raza and the Black community.
Beyond skin color, Latinos of African descent are graded on a number of things to determine if they measure up their fair-skinned counterparts; though skin color alone has historically been the sole motivator for vilification and bigotry. Hair texture, Spanish fluency and lineage are all points of criticism in which for Afro-Latinos to fall victim.
Never being considered “Black enough” or “Latina enough,” complications with self-identification develop. Those who don’t have the energy to vigorously challenge others in debates of lineage and culture tend to step away from their identification as Latinos, and simply submit to the Black American community.
“There are days when it’s easier to not say that I’m Panamanian, because that way I don’t have to explain myself. And on those days, my head hurts, my stomach hurts, because in that moment I’m not moving as my full self,” said Yvette Modestin, director of Boston’s non-profit Encuentro Diaspora Afro. Modestin also commented an upbringing that congratulated identity over skin color.
For years, Latinas in the public eye were fair-skinned, but even as Black Latinas emerged in Hollywood, it tends to be easier for Afro-Latinas to play African Americans on the screen, lamp-shading their Hispanic heritage; because to be Black Latina in Hollywood evokes a type of exoticism that isn’t always attractive to directors and producers, who like their Latinas pale.
Zoe Saldana, Arlenis Sosa, Dania Ramirez, LaLa Anthony, and Laren Velez are high-profile exceptions to the rule. Their identities as Black Latinas have not hindered their success, instead it has helped to encourage Afro-Latinas to be embraced by the general public, broadcasting the fact that “Blackness” occurs around the world — not just in America — and doesn’t diminish other cultural identities.
“As a Latina, I think we should be very proud of our heritage,” Zoe Saldana has said. “We tend to look for European roots and reject the indigenous and the African, and that’s disgusting. Being Latin is being a mix of everything. I want my people not to be insecure, and to adore what we are because it’s beautiful.”
Latinos of African descent will continue to struggle with pride and self-awareness if attention isn’t brought to contributions that Afro-Latinos have made. The inclusion of Afro-Latinos can only be valuable, as inter-cultural racism only hinders the population.
By: Nicole Akoukou Thompson
Black And Latino