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It goes without saying that Blackness and Latinidad aren’t mutually exclusive. The identity of being Black and Hispanic is multifaceted and multidimensional.

If you didn’t notice, this is Hispanic Heritage Month, and as we continue to celebrate Latinx history, their contributions to society, and the culture, we often don’t take into consideration the complex identities within the Latinx community. Why celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month without making these complex identities a topic of discussion? What does being “Hispanic” mean?

According to the Pew Research Center survey, one-quarter of all U.S Latinos self-identify as Afro-Latinx, Afro-Caribbean or of African descent with roots in Latin America. At times, we are accustomed to clumping together roughly 62 million people with ancestry in Brazil, Cuba, Honduras, El Salvador, Columbia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic (the list goes on) under one umbrella of being Hispanic, that we forget to ask what they truly identify themselves as.

In the Defender Network’s latest spotlight with four Houston-based Afro-Latinx members, racism, white supremacy, lack of education and exposure to the Afro-Latinx reality are some of the few issues impacting the community at large.

Let the People Be Heard

The Defender asked “The People” to offer their view about what being Afro-Latinx in America means to them.

“To me, being Afro-Latinx is being proud in your Blackness as a Spanish person. Often times I was told I either wasn’t “Black Enough” or “Latina Enough.” With having African and Latin roots, I descend from two powerful groups of people African American and Puerto Rican.  I understand the trials and tribulations both my ancestors faced and the issues people of today battle. It makes me overjoyed to identify with being Afro-Latinx. Being Afro-Latinx in America is showing people that Spanish people are not only fair skin we come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. That Afro-Latina’s deserve to check both boxes on questioners and not just one. Afro-Latinos are strong trailblazing people who have all overcome so much adversity to be where they are today.” (Stavana Blackmon)

“Being Afro-Latina means that we are blended in different shades of brown, white and come with different hair textures.  That we are not all that you see on tv that all Latinos have nice thick “Spanish” hair. Being an Afro-Latina in American means that I continue to represent my country and my culture to the future generations.”  (Julissa Martinez)

“It means that you come from a Latin country with African ancestry and people should learn that every person from or of Latin American descent comes in more shapes and colors than what is portrayed on tv or movies. We have people with rich and deep history” – (Emma Tavarez)

“Being/identifying as Afro-Latina is a way to honor my roots/culture by embracing all that makes me who I am. There is a lesson in not resorting to judging an individual by the color of their skin. The Latino color spectrum is vast – leaving an onlooker in awe when hearing a dark skin toned Afro-Latina(o) speak in their native tongue.” (Constance Luna)

“I am not Afro-Latina, but I definitely identify myself with women that are. I am very proud of my Latina roots and where I come from because that’s the basis of who I am. My skin is lighter than my Afro-Latina sisters, but we share so many of the same qualities, values, and feelings. Being Latina especially in this industry means that I have the opportunity to open doors for those that have the same dream I do. That means a lot to me.

I think what I want people to realize about Latinas in general is we can look any kind of way: light or dark, curly or straight hair, light or dark eyes. I understand that either way we’re considered “different” from society’s “norm”, but that shouldn’t be a thing. Afro-Latinas, some in my own family, get scrutinized more than someone my skin color would. I recognize that’s very real and that’s what I want America to learn about. I don’t believe in people saying if you’re Latina you can’t be black or questioning someone’s blackness because she’s Latina and speaks Spanish. Society tends to categorize people constantly and until we learn to accept people for everything they have to offer, America won’t move forward. We’re the greatest nation in the world, but these issues still exist. They won’t go away until we accept one another for who we are, realize that everyone is equal despite the color of their skin or the language they speak, and celebrate the beauty in our differences.”(Angelina Salcedo)

“To be Afro-Latina for me is to be aware that you sometimes represent two different communities of people. The Latin/Hispanic community is very diverse, but sometimes society puts us in a box. We only see the representation of the same type of Hispanic/Latin people in the media, whether it’s the JLO, Shakira, or Sofia Vergara type. 

I come from a Dominican family with a diverse range of “tones”. Growing up I realized that I was the same color as many Black/African Americans, but was always told it wasn’t the same. Of course, growing up I realized that we share the same past and ancestors, we just ended up with a slightly different path/history/culture. Over the years I’ve learned to be aware of this, mostly due to the fact that as a POC living in the South, many people would not assume I am Hispanic based on how I look. 

Being a woman of color who works in television, I enjoy talking about my background and explaining to people what it means to be Afro-Latina. I make sure I advocate for both the Hispanic/Latin and Black communities.

Contrary to what some may believe, the term Afro-Latino/a/x is not a new term. It’s been around. I want people to know that this is a group that sometimes may have a hard time trying to represent two communities, while at the same time feel like they don’t fully belong in either.

I want people to be aware that they can’t expect all Afro-Latinos to think the same way about what it means to be Afro-Latino.”  (Corallys Ortiz)