Sunday, February 22, 2009
I used to be a Spanish teacher and one thing I always found interesting was how my students did not know that you could be Black and Latino/a at the same time. They did not know that there were any Black Mexicans or that some Puerto Ricans are as dark as some Africans. This is interesting considering that"In 1570, enslaved Africans outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico three to one, but were reduced to only 10 percent of the population by 1810. On the Caribbean islands, Blacks outnumbered Whites by as many as 23 to 1." Brazil, whose people are often depicted only as light-skinned with wavy hair, has the largest Black population(fascinating article about race in Brazil) outside of Africa. It is no wonder though since most images we see of Hispanic people are either the light skinned Ricky Martin & J.Lo types or the brown-skinned indigenous "Indian" types. While those are definitely accurate descriptions of many Hispanics, you rarely see dark brown men and women representing Latino beauty in the media.
I think about people like Sammy Sosa (Dominican Republic, baseball player), Celia Cruz(Cuban salsa singer) and Zoe Saldana (Dominican/Puerto Rican actress from NY), just to name a few, who are all Latino but to many Americans are just considered Black.
This is a complex issue for many dark skinned Latinos. Some call themselves Afro-Latino (or more specifically Afro-Cuban, Afro-Panamanian, or Afro-Puerto Rican, etc.), which clearly emphasizes their African heritage. Other call themselves both Black and Latino. Now on forms, there is a "Black (not of Hispanic origin)" box that you can check which I assume is to address this very issue. However, not all darker skinned Hispanic people like to be referred to as Black. For some, this may be an issue of not wanting to be lumped into the "Black" category which brings the burden of many negative stereotypes and disadvantages. For others, "Black" simply may not fully represent the full experience of who they feel they are. This is an excerpt of an interesting article talking about the identity issues that come with being Latino with African ancestry:
Interestingly, efforts to increase awareness regarding Afro-Latino culture and plight can be found on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). At Howard University, Nadine Bascombe heads Cimarrones, a 50-member black student union of Caribbean, Central, and South Americans that recently expanded to include a chapter at Benedict College in South Carolina. Before Afro-Latinos can even begin to link the black-Hispanic communities, more Afro-Latinos must embrace their African heritage. "Within the population of what are considered Afro-Latinos, not all people identify with being black, so they'll join the Latino organizations because it's more of an assimilation of being white," says Bascombe, a junior. "It seems that if you relate yourself to being black it's something negative, so with that problem existing within the Afro-Latino population, not too many people run towards having an organization with that name."
This all came to me as I was looking at Latina.com and came across two beautiful Black Latina models. The first is Arlenis Sosa Peña who was discovered in the Dominican Republic.
The second is Sessilee Lopez, who is a self-described African-American fashion model (of Dominican and Portuguese decent), on the cover of Latina magazine. If you click the link it will take you to a letter to the editor written by a woman expressing her emotion over seeing a dark skinned Latina as the cover model.
I think no matter how you choose to label yourself, people will always go on what they see first. Unfortunately, there is still so much negativity surrounding what it means to be Black because of the history of stereotypes and under-representation (in a positive way) in the media. I think it's cool that we are beginning to see more and more people of color being represented in a positive light in our culture.
Clearly, there is no "one size fits all" descriptor for any ethnic or cultural group of people. This is a broad topic and many people have very strong opinions about it. So...do any of you consider yourselves to be Black and Latino/a? Do you know anyone who is? If so, what has been your experience with this identity? I only ask because I find it fascinating how we as Americans deal with the complexities of race (a social construct in my opinion), color and identity. What do you guys think?