The Complexity of Afro-Latinos

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Have you ever been overdressed for a function? Or worse, underdressed? The side glances and murmurs reach your ears…the obvious perception being that you don’t fit.  I often get that reception when sharing that I’m Dominican- “But you are so white.”   “You are not black enough to be Dominican.” 

And even my own Dominicans question my heritage, “Are you Puerto Rican? Venezuelan? You are so white…Oh, I got it, you are Argentinian?”    I must often proof my Dominican-ness by referring to my home town, or dropping some Dominican curses.   I’m too white to be Latina and too Latina to be White…. Perpetual confusion.   

Our DNA testing results are due back any day and I’m certain the Cool-Namnun family will have Lebanese and Native Taino blood as well as African blood stemming from the slave trade that stopped across the Caribbean Islands.  Slave trade coupled with natural migration have resulted in the mixing of races yielding unique combinations in today’s people, including Afro-Latinos.   

Like Bruno Mars, yes, Grammy-Sweeping Bruno Mars is Afro-Puerto Rican. 

Afro-Latino or Black Latin Americans refers to Latinos of significant African ancestry. Fortunately, as our children and children’s children grow, comfortable in their own skin, refusing to permit disdain or confusion to taint any of their labels, these beautiful combinations are becoming more mainstream. 

The struggle continues to be a challenge, as Hollywood doesn’t know how to categorize Afro-Latinos- can a light-skin Afro-Cuban really play a Black Character?  The Casting director often dismisses these dualities, permitting the selection of only ONE, Black or Latino.  Pigeon-holing this entire segment of the population. 

Identity in Latinos in the United States is very complex with various dimensions. We identify with our national ancestry- Cuban, Peruvian, Salvadorian AND connect to our racial, indigenous roots.  The Pew Research Center estimates that at least 25%, or 14 million, of U.S. Latinos identify as Afro-Latinos, and when questioned about their race, they identify that they are Hispanic. To further complicate matters, the US Census doesn’t consider Hispanic a race, but an ethnic variable. 

Why does any of this matter?  

Bruno Mars still sings (and dances!) beautifully. 

Mariah Carey can still belt all those octaves.  

Zoe Saldana is still a great actress. 

Carmelo Anthony is still a basketball rockstar 

Soledad O’Brien is still an en epic journalist. 

Celia Cruz is still the queen of Azucar. 

This is about awareness. Consciousness and preferences.  Do you understand your workforce to ensure they are engaged? Equally as important, how can you incorporate these added demographic variables into your customer profile to increase revenue and profitability?  

When building your communication strategy, are you ensuring that your stock photography is representative of this diversity? Does your creative development include diverse elements that would resonate with these very multi-dimensional customers?  

Let’s consider Black-History Month, being commemorated in February- Of course, we honor Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and Reginald Lewis.  But that’s just one piece of the African diaspora in the United States.  Let’s also include the Afro-Latinos in the acknowledgement- let’s add John Peter “Piri” Thomas, the Afro-Latino writer from Harlem, author of Down These Mean Streets, or Junot Diaz, Afro-Dominican author of The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao.   

Let’s also reflect on the influence of Africa in Latin music, from the Conga to the Mambo.   Check out the Smithsonian Folkways, the non-profit music label that focuses on American Folkloric traditions, and aptly included Afro-Latino music as part of American folk music.   

The reality is that our population is no longer easy to categorize into simple and distinct buckets- but richly diverse in its complexity.  These layers add to the innovation that drives our success as a nation, in academia, sciences and the economy- not to mention the arts and culture.  A book cannot be judged by its cover, so re-assess your unconscious biases and consider the internal categorization that occur when hiring, promoting, or engaging folks as employees and customers. 

Amigos- I encourage you to join me at the Baltimore’s Legends & Legacy Jubilee celebration at the Frederick Douglass museum on February 17, 2018 to embrace and explore the city’s rich African American heritage and culture, which proudly includes contributions from the Caribbean, Latin America and U.S Hispanic demographics.  Over 17 organizations, from the American Visionary Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Port Discovery and so many more that cover the gamut of our varied and diverse history. 


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