In last week’s article on multiple-consciousness in the Latino community, I touched on the existential issues ascribed to the prevalence of Afro-Latinos in the community. While I only discussed Black Puerto Ricans, Afro-Latinos come from all parts of Latin America. There are Afro-Cubans in Matanzas, Afro-Brazilians in Salvador, the Garifuna on the island of Roatán and – though most Dominicans don’t like to admit it – prietos in Santo Domingo. There is also, of course, the proud Black nation of Haiti, often left out of the Latin American equation.
Growing up Black and Latino in the United States, as I have, is both a unique and troubling experience. On the one hand, being both allows the individual to see the world through different lenses and express themselves in a variety of ways. Being Afro-Latino, however, allows society to judge the individual through the same lenses and persecute them in an equal variety of ways. Their Blackness and Latino-ness are the tools with which Afro-Latinos better understand the space they occupy and the world beyond it, but the racism and xenophobia centered on their Blackness and Latin-ness facilitate the oppression of Afro-Latinos, who are hated and feared for being Black, “brown” and different.
Rather than Du Bois’ “two-ness,” the Afro-Latino in America more often than not experiences something like three-ness, or what New York University professors Juan Flores and Miriam Jiménez Román describe as “triple-consciousness.” In one essay, Flores and Jiménez Román write:
“Afro-Latino is at the personal level a unique and distinctive experience and identity, ranging as it does among and between Latino, Black and U.S. American dimensions of lived social reality. In their quest for a full and appropriate sense of social identity, Afro-Latinos are thus typically pulled in three directions at once, and share a complex, multi-dimensional optic on contemporary society.”
If they’re lucky, an Afro-Latino child is raised in a community where being Black or Latino is not a choice forced upon them; they can be who they are, both Black and Latino. Yet all too often, Blacks and Latinos themselves draw the line between their two communities. Afro-Latinos may be nicknamed something like “El Negrito” or “trompudo” by their relatives or friends, which are playful on the surface, but serve as constant reminders of their dark difference. And almost inevitably, Afro-Latinos are too “Spanish” to be accepted by Blacks. Let him say the word nigga around a group of Black people and he’ll get a look that says, “Watch it, nigga! You ain’t Black.” (Look no further than American baseball if you need more proof of Black discrimination against Afro-Latinos.)
The Afro-Latino struggle for inclusion into the larger Latino community has come a long way, thanks to the efforts of pioneers like Schomburg and the late Piri Thomas, but Afro-Latinos still face oppression in places like Honduras’s Costa Norte, the Dominican Republic and Brazil. What’s left now is for the global Latino community to come to terms with three essential truths about themselves: that Latinos are not the “brown” race, that Latino-ness is not a color, that being Latino goes beyond the colors with which we paint ourselves.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.