Normally such a phrase wouldn’t make me think twice (and no, it wasn’t directed at me). However, I had never heard this guy speak Spanish before. Besides the fact that his Spanish was noticeably better than mine, I couldn’t help but wonder how this Black guy learned to speak such great Spanish.
“Maybe he’s a Spanish major, or maybe he grew up around a bunch of Mexicans,” I thought. Of all the different things that went through my head, it didn’t once cross my mind that maybe Spanish was his native language.
Fast-forward a few months. I’m now in my third semester in college, sitting in a presentation about Afro-Latinos, a presentation that would literally change my life (and my perceptions of identity). The woman presenting explained how she was hondureña, and identified as garifuna. She talked about the African slave trade in Latin America and how the majority of slaves (over 90 percent) brought to the Western Hemisphere ended up in the Caribbean and South America.
The African influence in the Latino culture was everywhere: in our dance, in our food, in our music. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience that should have happened a lot earlier in my life.
Soon after the presentation, I learned that the guy was indeed Latino; Cuban, to be exact. I have to admit, I was embarrassed for not once thinking that he was Latino. I almost couldn’t believe that I had such a narrow view of my culture.
To be fair too, there wasn’t much diversity growing up in South Texas. If you were Latino (and you probably were), chances were pretty good that you were Mexican. In school, we learned that many of us were mestizos, of mixed European (Spanish) and Native American blood. Unfortunately, that was the extent of our (limited) education on Latino (or I should say, Mexican) identity.
Many of my colleagues at Being Latino have talked about the Afro-Latino experience, and even their own personal Afro-Latino experience. But for people who grew up (and live) in sections of the country with a limited amount of Latino diversity (or just diversity in general), there also needs to be a greater understanding of the Afro-Latino experience.
If I lived 20 years without knowing or understanding the African influence on my own culture, there must be thousands (or millions?) of Latinos at this moment that have no clue either.
This is where education plays a key role, and not necessarily in the formal sense. We must continue to educate those around us, of all races and ethnicities, about the diversity that makes our community (or perhaps better stated, communities) so rich and beautiful.
In regards to better educating ourselves on the Afro-Latino experience, it could even lead us to better understand our relationships with other communities of color. Or at the very least, it could keep us from making stupid assumptions, as I once did not too long ago.