Historically, race has been an unmentionable issue within the Latino community. However, during the past several years, there’s been much talk about the term “Afro-Latino” in the United States. Various organizations such as the National Institute for Latino Policy launched a Census project in 2010 in an effort to inform the community to self identify as Afro-Latino by checking both the Latino and Black/African box. Abroad, in the main countries, the issue of race doesn’t seem to have really changed much. In Puerto Rico, for example, despite a heavy African influence on the Island, identifying as African is still very much taboo.
Since the 1930s tourism has shaped the cultural nationalist discourse of Puerto Rico. In the wake of the Great Depression, tourism came to be seen as the answer to cash-crop dependency and the solution to unemployment. During this time, the magazine Puerto Rico Illustrado launched a massive campaign promoting the tourism sector as a means to overcome the economic downturn. According to Rosa, tourism in Puerto Rico was not only a way of making money but also a national and patriotic enterprise that defined and influenced the people’s identity. Culturally, Puerto Rico was being constructed as a peaceful country inhabited by descendants of Spaniards and Corsicans erasing the Afro-Puerto Rican element.
Around this time, famous poets such as Luis Pales Matos, Mario Cox, Neftín García, among others, emerged with what is known today as “Poesia Negra.” In his most notable work, Dinga y Mandiga, Fortunato Vizcarrondo examines the ethnic identification of Puerto Ricans with his poem ¿ y tu abuela, dónde está? Vizcarrondo writes, “You display yourself as white; And your grandma, where is she?” to emphasize that at the end of the day, if you look to your ancestors you’ll find that they are African, even if it’s way deep down the family tree. He notes, “el que no tiene dinga tiene mandinga” meaning, you may have silk hair as the white people you identify with but you also have a broad nose as your Black ancestors and vice versa.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, I can say first hand that while African influence in our culture is instilled in schools across the country and songs are infused with lyrical connotations about Africans, we’d never identify as Afro-Latino. In fact, it’s more commonplace for people to say they are from Spanish decent and to deny completely any association with Africans. That’s not to say we are ignorant of the legacy that Africans brought to the island, rather we are still in denial about our inclusion as part of that legacy. The connection between the two, being African vs being influenced by the African community is lost in translation.
Acording to Miriam Jiménez Román, author of The Afro-Latin@ reader, there are millions of Afro Latinos. The problem, it seems, is that while Latinos live in a “Black” context they identify with being white because of the cultural stigmas of being African. In Puerto Rico, this debate seems to be another chicken or the egg problem. So I ask you, wherever you’re from, Puerto Rican or not ¿ y tu abuela, dónde está?
Leslie Pesante, Guest Contributor
 Richard Rosa (2001). Business as Pleasure. Duke University Press.