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17 Books to Understand the Black History of Latin America


Black History Month coverage doesn’t always include Afro-Latinidad but that history (both in the U.S. and Latin America) is both important and deserving of attention. We may think we know the history of Latin America, or at least the specific countries we come from, but thanks to colonization and anti-Blackness, that history is often rewritten. The colonizer/whitewashed version is upheld and perpetuated, both in the Latinx community and the publishing industry. So In order to be more inclusive and fight against racism, colorism, and white supremacy, we must start by learning/relearning LATAM history from a Black perspective, which had played an essential role in the region for hundreds of years. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it’s a good starting point to learn about LATAM history from a diverse array of perspectives. Read on to learn more about 17 books about Afro-Latinx history in LATAM.

Panama in Black by Kaysha Corinealdi

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Duke University Press Books

Panama in Black by Kaysha Corinealdi gives voice to the stories of Afro-Caribbean Panamanians in Panama and the U.S. in the 20th century in cities including Colón, Kingston, Panamá City, Brooklyn, Bridgetown, and La Boca. Specifically, readers will learn about their community activism efforts against anti-Blackness, xenophobia, imperialism, nationalism, and white supremacy like printing newspapers, creating scholarships to support the education of Black students, starting conferences and organizations to fight against institutional oppression, and much more. Using speeches, yearbooks, photographs, government reports, radio broadcasts, newspaper editorials, and oral histories, Corinealdi provides a well-researched case study of an important Afro-Latinx community that has been kept hidden for too long.

The [email protected] Reader: History and Culture in the United States by Miriam Jiménez Román and Juan Flores

Latinx history books
Photo: Duke University Press Books

The [email protected] Reader, edited by Miriam Jiménez Román and Juan Flores, is not your average college textbook but important reading for all, regardless of education level. This anthology includes interviews, essays, poems, articles, short stories, and insight from dozens of Afro-Latinx writers, scholars, and historians, all spotlighting the history of the Afro-Latinx community over the past few centuries. In these pages, readers will learn about how Afro-Latinxs have related to and experienced Black and Latinx culture, received racism and ethnocentrism from both communities, and contributed to the wider American culture through music, literature, and media. This book is perfect for readers looking to confront and learn more about their own biases, racism, and anti-Blackness.

Afro-Latin American Studies: An Introduction by Alejandro de la Fuente and George Reid Andrews

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Cambridge University Press

Afro-Latin American Studies is a collection of essays edited by Alejandro de la Fuente and George Reid Andrews that offers a general introductory survey of Afro-Latin American life from a political, social, cultural, and economic perspective. Covering topics of music, religion, literature, art history, political thought, philosophy, social movements, legal history, environmental history, and race, the anthology shows the undeniable connections between slavery and Latin American life, and the value of Afro-Latinx scholarship.

An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz

african american and latinx history cover
Photo: Barnes & Noble

It’s no secret that the Black and Latinx communities share many similarities in their struggle for liberation and freedom in the U.S., or that Afro-Latinxs are considered an essential bridge between these two worlds. But did you also know that we have worked together for decades in the ongoing fight against imperialism and oppression? In Paul Ortiz’s groundbreaking book An African American and Latinx History of the United States, these two intertwined histories, as well as that of Indigenous peoples, are placed at the forefront, from racial segregation in the 20th century to the first “A Day Without Immigrants” demonstration in 2006. Through this book, you’ll learn that the freedoms we have today would be nothing without Black and Latinx grassroots organizers, our collaborations, or our continued need to unite and achieve complete civil rights for all.

Racial Migrations by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof

Latinx history books
Photo: Princeton University Press

Racial Migrations by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof tells the story of Afro-Latinx writers, intellectuals, and revolutionaries who immigrated from Cuba and Puerto Rico to New York City during the nineteenth century. Readers will learn about extraordinary individuals including Rafael Serra, Sotero Figueroa, and Gertrudis Heredia and how their arrival to NYC and their participation in America’s political movements at the time also signaled a greater plan to end the slave trade, the monarchy, and lack of citizenship rights in their homeland. Overall, the book explores the experience of migrating to another country while Black, finding power in community, and collaborating across race and national lines in the name of freedom and liberation.

Black in Latin America by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Latinx history books
Photo: NYU Press

If you’re looking to dive deep into the history of Black livelihood in Latin America, there’s no better place to start than Black in Latin America by renowned historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Throughout the book, readers are taken on a journey to six Latin American countries—Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and Peru—to learn about their African roots, often forgotten, erased, or outright ignored. Spanning from the beginning of the slave trade to the present day, Louis Gates, Jr. demonstrates the African influence in Latin American art, music, food, dance, politics, and religion, as well as the anti-Black racism that can be seen in those same aspects of culture. He argues that Latin America would not be what it is without the presence of vibrant Black communities, and asks us all to confront our own anti-Blackness and denial of this rich, essential history.

African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean by Herbert S. Klein and Ben Vinson III

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Oxford University Press

African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean by Herbert S. Klein and Ben Vinson III is another introductory survey of Afro-Latinx life in the Portuguese, Spanish, and French-colonized regions of LATAM and the Caribbean. The first part of the book focuses on plantations and mines that were built at the expense of African slaves, how slavery changed alongside the economy, and how slave labor was distributed across industries, especially on sugar plantations. In the second part, the book looks at the life and culture of slaves in these regions, including their experience in the wider Atlantic slave trade, how they adapted to European languages, religions, politics, and culture for survival, how they resisted and rebelled against systems of slavery, and how they lived post-emancipation and abolition. Readers will also be able to learn about a different side of Black history in Brazil, where a free Black labor class developed and flourished.

Afro-Latino Voices by Leo J. Garofalo and Kathryn Joy McKnight

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Hackett

Afro-Latino Voices is an anthology edited by Kathryn Joy McKnight and Leo J. Garofalo featuring essays from leading scholars in the field of Afro-Latinx studies. In these pieces, readers will study the Black diaspora across the Atlantic, Africa, and Latin America, and Black lives under systems of colonial oppression. This is a necessary and essential text to understanding the role Black people, both enslaved and freed, played in LATAM history and culture.

Mastering the Law: Slavery and Freedom in the Legal Ecology of the Spanish Empire by Ricardo Raúl Salazar Rey

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: University Alabama Press

Mastering the Law by Ricardo Raúl Salazar Rey focuses on African slaves in Latin America during the 16th and 17th centuries, and centers their stories within the overall history of the region. Beginning from their initial forced arrival in LATAM, he then explores how slaves and their descendants used, adapted, and changed the legal system and Spanish institutions of power that forced them into bondage. Despite their oppression and exploitation, he argues that slaves, particularly in Cartagena de Indias, were able to build and sustain life.

Entangled Coercion: African and Indigenous Labour in Charcas (16th–17th Century) by Paola A. Revilla Orías

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: De Gruyter Oldenbourg

Entangled Coercion by Paola A. Revilla Orías also explores slavery, but focuses on Black and Indigenous communities who unwillingly provided forced labor in Charcas, Bolivia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Readers will learn about the introduction and establishment of slavery to the region, the role slavery played in the creation of colonies and economic industries, and the journey to freedom.

Exquisite Slaves: Race, Clothing, and Status in Colonial Lima by Tamara J. Walker

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Cambridge University Press

Exquisite Slaves by Tamara J. Walker explores slavery in 18th and 19th century Lima, Peru, focusing on how slaves expressed autonomy, formed language, and revealed their thoughts on gender and status through the use of elegant clothing. Combined with deep historical research, visual aids, feminist thought, and fashion studies, she shows that slaves, despite the racism they faced, issues of legality, their oppression from slave owners, and limited access to clothing, were able to maintain their dignity, humanity, and ingenuity through their attire.

The Afro-Latino: A Historical Journey by Leslie K. Best

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Leslie K. Best

The Afro-Latino by Leslie K. Best is a general introduction to the African diaspora in Latin American countries including Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, and Colombia. She explores the beginnings of slavery at the hands of European colonizers seeking to increase their wealth and social status, and shows that slaves often assimilated into the culture of the region they were taken to, whether that was Spanish, Portuguese, French, or British. But despite the abolition of slavery, she argues that the effects of 300 years of slavery, like racism, colorism, and white supremacy, are still being felt by the descendants of slaves today and maintained by those wishing to uphold institutional systems of oppression and power.

Finding Afro-Mexico: Race and Nation After the Revolution by Theodore W. Cohen

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Cambridge University Press

Finding Afro-Mexico by Theodore W. Cohen tackles the complexity of the Afro-Mexican identity and the chain of events that led to a Mexican national identity upheld by white supremacist ideals, which only recognized Afro-Mexican citizens in 2015. Using the stories of Mexican, African American, and Cuban intellectuals, he shows how Blackness was systematically erased in Mexico post-revolution, and how it was, and still is, being brought back into the mainstream landscape by Black writers, creatives, and historians.

Afro-Latin America: 1800-2000 by George Reid Andrews

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Oxford University Press

Afro-Latin America by George Reid Andrews is a thorough introduction to the African diaspora in Latin America, which he argues had a far more important role in history than even in the U.S. Beginning with the establishment and abolition of slavery in every LATAM country, he demonstrates how African people and their descendants played a vital role in the politics, economy, nationhood, and culture of their countries. They sought freedom and liberation for their communities, and fought for citizenship both individually and collectively over 200 years. This is essential reading to understand LATAM as a whole, slavery from a new point of view, and what change still needs to happen in the future.

“Living While Black” in Latin America and the Caribbean by Delroy Constantine-Simms

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Think Doctor Publications

“Living While Black” in Latin America and the Caribbean is an anthology edited by Delroy Constantine-Simms that shows how Afro-Latinxs face greater levels of oppression, state violence, and racial discrimination in LATAM and the Caribbean. Spanning a wide range of scholars and intellectuals, the book offers Afro-descendant and Indigenous perspectives on racism pre- and post-recognition by their respective countries of origin by every level of society including economics, politics, and government. In present-day, they use the murder of George Floyd to demonstrate the changes happening in LATAM, expose the hypocrisy and dangers of neoliberalism, and what lies ahead for Black protest, progress, and liberation in the region. 

Colonial Blackness: A History of Afro-Mexico by Herman L. Bennett

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Indiana University Press

Colonial Blackness by Herman L. Bennett offers a revised, and more accurate, version of Latin American history with a focus on African slaves and their descendants in Mexico. Using research and records from religious and colonial institutions, he explores the role of Catholicism in the system of slavery and how it was used against Black lives and freedom. He exposes the flaws and inaccuracies in the widely accepted history of Mexico using oral and written histories, body politics, and stories previously untold.

Translating Blackness: Latinx Colonialities in Global Perspective by Lorgia García Peña

Afro-Latinx history books
Photo: Duke University Press Books

Translating Blackness by Lorgia García Peña explores Black Latinidad from a global perspective to capture the international story of slavery and colonialism. Rather than just seeing Afro-Latinx as a marker of identity, she argues that it is actually a formation of culture, politics, and histories of Black oppression, resistance, and liberation. Using the works of Frederick Douglass, Gregorio Luperón, and Arthur Schomburg, she focuses on different points of Black history in Latin America and around the world. This includes the migration of Black Dominicana guerrillas after the 1965 civil war and Afro-Latinas organizing activist movements in Italy. Most importantly, she argues that Latinidad in its people and culture cannot exist without Black life and communities.