However, we disagree in terms of who and what defines Afr@Latin@s. Here is why.
Black Latinidad, Afr@Latin@s, LatiNegr@s and other panethnic terms are young in both U.S. and diasporic history. While it may seem easiest to define Afr@Latin@s as “descended of” any one particular thing, doing so only falls in line with codes that have been used to divide us (people of African-descent in the Americas) from much needed resources and divide nosotros (people of African-descent who are also Latin@ or Latin American) from creating coalitions with Anglo-identified or identifying Blacks in the Americas. Policing culture, bloodlines, and birthplace is behavior very familiar to imperialist and colonialist regimes the world over—and it has worked for generations on generations. None of it has ever gotten at the root of exorcising racist systems of oppression, classist modes of resources distribution or sexual violence within our communities.
The struggle against racist systems of oppression is about Blackness, as it relates to Afr@latinidad, being acknowledged as its own entity.
Afr@Latin@s are not Black in the same way African-Americans are Black. Some are Afr@Latin@ because they have African ancestors connected to a particular land with its own particular culture that is not the U.S. Others are Afr@Latin@s because their experiences, culture, lineage, and personal histories are both of Latin@ or Latin American-descent and of Black descent, whether that be U.S. or diasporic. This is particularly true of the fast growing population of Afr@Latin@s in the United States—those of Latin@ and Anglo-identifying Black descent. Still others are Afr@Latin@ because they self-identify as both marked by Blackness and as part of a global struggle against racist oppression enacted against Latin@s and Latin Americans of African-descent.
There have been generations of Afr@Latin@s born on U.S. soil. We cannot ignore or dismiss this history. As early as the fifteenth century and into the last decades of the nineteenth, Africans moved through the slave holding societies of North, Central and South America. Most often as slaves, though sometimes as free people of Color, they crossed false boundaries created by colonial regimes. Over the course of a lifetime, a Black person might find themselves enslaved in Cuba, fomenting slave revolt in Haiti, and freed in New York City.
Moreover, and especially in Latin America, Blackness existed and exists along a spectrum created at the intersection of two things. On the one hand, state-sanctioned racial codes policed and police the line between Black and white. In Latin America, gradations ofmorena, quarterona and other castas further divided people of African-descent, even determining access to freedom, occupations, and education. As a result, Black identity was never any one thing but was always stigmatized in relation to whites. On the other hand, Blackness itself was and is deep and varied, as Africans hailing from Dahomey created families with those of Congo or Segu, and a myriad other societies and cultures over time, including those here in the Americas. The combination created and creates conflicting racial identities. This is why there are even Latin@s of African-descent who do not identify as ‘Afr@Latino@.’ And yet their agency is important too.
This is our history. ‘Afr@latinidad’ is not linear. But our struggle creates commonalities. Because Afr@Latin@s usually don’t match a specific “Latin@” image, we are forced to negotiate our identity and are discursively or personally positioned as outsiders in ‘Latin@’ spaces. The struggle for inclusion, rights, and resources is also about our children, grandchildren, and kin. And while relations between Afro@Latin@s and African-Americans, or Caribbean and Latin American folk who identify as indigenous or white, have never been perfect, bonds existed and continue to be formed. We cannot dismiss or police individuals for how they have structured their families, and we must not think we can dictate individuals racial identities to them. Self-identification is key.
We are concerned with the definition presented in the Letter to Latina Magazine because there is a difference between denying and accepting African-roots. We gain nothing by using mainstream constructions of race to define our politics or our struggle. Coalitions and acceptance are political imperatives as we work on behalf of ourselves and our communities.
To be clear: we will always stand strong when it comes to the exploitation and colonization of our people. We will not stand for commercialization and corporate colonization of Black and Latin@ people anywhere in the world. In Latina Magazine’s blatant disregard of the term and identity Afr@Latin@, they have allowed us to have a dialogue that makes our community stronger.
We always support dialogue that promotes Afr@Latin@s and African Descendants. Discussion of Latin@s of African-descent needs to happen; often. Acknowledging, honoring, and raising awareness of Black people in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean is critical, necessary, and not up for debate. And people of Color producing and sharing knowledge is powerful. Remembering our historical legacy and the long struggle behind and ahead will only make us stronger.
In Solidarity, The LatiNegr@s Project/@BeingAfroLatino Team