People who live in the U.S. go through identity issues from time to time. This can be caused by many different things, including parents’ separation, school bullying, immigration, and, most importantly, skin color. The term AfroLatino is a word I don’t hear too often, but it is of cultural importance. There are many people from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other countries that love their culture and claim their African roots. More people should be aware of this side of the Latino. But it is certainly misrepresented and sometimes even feared.
When you Google the word AfroLatino, you get some good resources and stories. Google Images also provides some interesting insights into this sensitive subject. Even so, when you’re of mixed descent or just dark-skinned, sometimes finding out who you are is just difficult. “My family is the rainbow coalition,” says Jesse Bermudez, a Philadelphia native. “I got white, blonde hair (family members)…my father was a Spaniard-this-and-that, my grandmom is as black as a frying pan from the mother’s side.” However, while in the military, Bermudez was labeled a negroid just because of the color of his skin.
Jesse Bermudez is one of eight people highlighted in a new photo exhibition at Taller Puertorriqueño in Philadelphia. What it means to be Afro-Latino in Philadelphia: Stories from El Barrio is a photo-portraiture and documentary project exploring the AfroLatino concept as well as the experience and artistic/cultural expressions of North Philadelphia Latinos. These eight stories highlight the positive contributions of being AfroLatino, but also the troubles of growing up AfroLatino.
One particularly memorable story was from Evelyne Laurent-Perrault. She recalls the time she worked at a bookstore and took a call from a woman wanting to purchase a book. The woman ended up coming to the bookstore. When Evelyne said hello, the woman said, “Sorry, you’re not the person who helped me.” The woman continued to badger Evelyne, hinting that a dark-skinned woman could not have been so polite. After finding out it was Evelyn, the woman felt horrible. This is one example of how the color of your skin can affect so many lives.
So what does it mean to be AfroLatino? There can’t be a real definition without first admitting Latinos are a mixed breed of Spanish, African, and Indigenous culture. Angie Ruiz, Shippensburg University student, says, “I think AfroLatino/Latina means the influence of the African culture in the early development of the Latino culture as we have come to know it.” I’m hoping more and more people become aware of this cultural significance and of the sensitivity behind it.
By guest contributor, Eric Cortes of hisPanic.