Afro-Latinas highlight the complexity of their roots

The first time DePaul junior, Ariana Collazo heard of an Afro-Latina individual at school was last year during her Afro-Caribbean class when Haitian American novelist Edwidge Danticat came to speak to her class.

“Listening to her story was truly inspiring and I will never forget watching her,” Collazo said.

Collazo said she felt connected to the author’s experience of being ostracized and how her classmates treated her differently growing up, coming from a Puerto Rican and African-American background.

Ariana Collazo outside Lane Tech High School.
Photo courtesy of Ariana Collazo

Collazo said she remembers being teased by elementary school kids when they found out her mother was African American. “Of course, not speaking Spanish, they always said ‘How are you a real Puerto Rican if you can’t even speak Spanish and your mother is black?’ Collazo said.

Although in the United States, 5% of the population identifies as Afro-Latino according to 2019 Pew Research, there are approximately 150 million Afro-Latinos in the total population of 540 million in Latin America according to a report of CRS.

The stories of Afro-Latinas have been largely erased from most educational discourse, leaving individuals to figure it out for themselves and face the repercussions of not seeing themselves represented.

The invisibility of Afro-Latinos in popular discourse and the media leads many young people to struggle with the validity of their ethnic identity.

Dr. Jacqueline Lazú, associate dean and professor at Depaul, said: “Failing to center your stories on a historical tradition, a cultural tradition that you belong to makes you feel left out. It makes you feel like you’re not worthy, it makes you feel like your experience and your history and who you are doesn’t matter.

The community also has colorist ties, which makes Afro-Latinos feel they need to prioritize their Latin American roots over their black roots in order to avoid prejudice, a common occurrence if they are of complexion. clearer.

Michelle Bueno Vasquez, Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University studying political science and the transnational Afro-Latino diaspora, said, “For some people, it’s a hard thing to consider, that you’re going to introduce this difference and expose you to racist prejudice, subconsciously some people just don’t ‘I don’t want to go there, they’d rather not identify as black.

According to a study by the State University of New York at Albany, Latinos who identify as black have lower incomes, higher unemployment rates, higher poverty rates, less education and less opportunities than those who identify as “white” or “other”.

Bueno Vasquez said the mobilization of Latin American political organizations has encouraged many Afro-Latinos to identify with Latinos instead of their black roots in order to get more government funding.

This tactical behavior leads to the essentialization of minority movements when minority movements define cultural or biological characteristics shared by all members to create a unified category that benefits the majority within the minority.

Michelle Bueno Vasquez in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Bueno Vasquez

“It leaves people like me, Afro-Latinos or indigenous Latinos, or Latinos who don’t speak Spanish like Brazilians, Haitians in the dust and does not provide for our safety, inclusion and benefits, and uses funds that basically we helped them get,” Bueno Vasquez said.

Afro-Latinos deny their blackness, “That also means you have to deny parts of yourself and probably encounter a lot of microaggressions to be in those spaces,” Bueno Vasquez said.

Bueno Vasquez and Collazo were among many Afro-Latin women who experienced low self-esteem in their youth.

Bueno Vasquez said she remembered when she was nine or 10: “I would pray to God that I would wake up feeling lighter and having straighter hair and green eyes,” while Collazo said that she remembered thinking she was ugly.

Bueno Vasquez said educating girls about Afro-Latin stories and seeing them in the media at an early age can be beneficial as it can help circumvent the period of self-hatred and self-effacement that many go through.

Bueno Vasquez advises people to recognize the internal racism everyone has in terms of appearance and others. She said she wonders why one can find certain qualities attractive because “When we think of sexual attraction or taste, it’s often the reproduction of savant racist hierarchies and things that we think grant privilege.”

Lazú said the problem lies with the prevailing Western beauty standards that Latin America and the United States have constructed to deliberately negatively image people with dark complexions.

Lazú said Afro-Latinas must be “ready to understand and change the ways we ourselves can be complicit, even unwittingly, in reinforcing these beauty standards and systems of oppression. We should demand representation and advocate for the inclusion of Black and Indigenous women in the spaces we lack.

For more information on improving Black Latinidad’s visibility, visit the Afro-Latino Forum online.

Cover graphic by Jocelyn Diaz

“Jacqueline Cardenas is a second-year undergraduate student majoring in Journalism with a concentration in Latin American Communication at DePaul University. She is a first-generation Mexican-American student and aspires to diversify the news industry. She loves nature and reading in her spare time. Twitter: @jackiecardenas_”

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Sharon D. Cole