HipLatina
Black Women of Latin American Descent and How They Identify HipLatina
Photo: Courtesy of Carmen Mojica
News and Entertainment

Afro-Latina vs. Negra: 5 Black Women of Latin American Descent Share How They Identify

 

Identity is layered. With the evolution of terminologies and expansion of definitions, it’s complex and far from static.


For our community, it’s no different as we’ve seen terms like Hispanic, Latino and now Latinx originate within the last 50 years. The latter, Latinx, became Merriam-Webster-official at the top of September, which signified a moment of inclusion for some, and a move to further complicate the Spanish language for others. Even with “inclusive” terms like Latino/a/x, some remain left out, making room for Asian Latinx and Afro-Latinx, among other identities.

I recently opened up about my view on the term Afro-Latina and why I feel negra is more fitting in an op-ed for Remezcla, detailing how I first discovered the word and how I felt it embodied my identity fully to its current trendiness and the shift I’ve seen in who gets centered, as well as some attempts to separate Blackness from it. The article led to nearly a week of social media shares, comments and direct messages from those wanting to unpack the identity. While many understood my perspective, others remain aligned with Afro-Latina or said they preferred adding Afro to their nationality. Some ditched all those terms, connecting with Afro-descendant, while others are open to using all of the above.

But despite the term selected, pride in Blackness was a constant. The conversations parallel existing data. One in four U.S. Latinxs self-identify as Afro-Latinx, Afro-Caribbean or of African descent with roots in Latin America, according to the Pew Research Center. Here’s what five Black women via Latin America want you to know about how they choose to identify.

Carmen Mojica, certified professional midwife

Photo: Courtesy of Carmen Mojica

On how she currently identifies…

“Any of the following apply: Afro-Latina, Afro-Dominicana; in some spaces, I’m just Latina, but I try to emphasize the Afro-Latina whenever I can.

On whether or not there’s been a shift in the way she identifies…


“I started to identify as Afro-Latina back in 2006 or ‘07, so 11 or 12 years now. At first I was just like I’m proud of my African roots and [to be] a Latina, like I hadn’t done a lot of the challenging around my Latina identity. But I knew I was clear that I was on this journey of embracing my Afro roots. I wouldn’t say embracing because it makes it seem like I just discovered that I was Black like, no, I’ve been Black I’d been struggling with accepting the beauty of it; saying that I was Afro-Latina was claiming the beautiful parts that we’re not encouraged to embrace in our culture, so that was what the beginning of the journey looked like. As I got older, and over the last 10 years of doing presentations and talking about it online and offline, and especially doing my birth work, I begun to really say I’m Black…Although I don’t reject the Afro-Latina title, I often just refer to myself as Black.”

On if there has been a shift in the way the term Afro-Latina has been used…

“I think there has been a change. When I came into the conversation of Afro-Latinidad in college  the people that were identifying as Afro-Latina were markedly more my complexion…it was people that were dark-skinned. I felt like, oh my God, we found other Black Latinos who have the same struggle and the same story as me, and I get to virtually go through this journey with y’all. Then over the years, everybody started calling themselves Afro-Latino, if they had any trace of it [African ancestry] in their family but they were still definitely lighter than me. And when that happened I’m like, okay, we can all be Afro-Latinos. I wasn’t mad. Like I’m glad we’re all having this conversation, but I think what I’m noticing is people that are visibly Afro-Latino now in these conversations, with the exception of Amara, are trigueñas, are people that are lighter-skinned.

I think we really have to talk about … not policing that you can call yourself Afro-Latina, but we need to talk about the African elements of our culture and we need to center people who are inescapably [Black], who don’t have the luxury of calling themselves Afro-Latina or who will always be ID’ed as Latina or of Hispanic origin. I’m not starving for the crown of Spain to identify me as Latina, I’m good. It’s more about the fact that you feel like I’m disposable just like other Black bodies because I don’t fit an aesthetic and because you would rather our culture be seen as just a step better, if you will, than Black people.”

On the importance of centering Blackness…

“We’ve been taught by virtue of this Latinidad umbrella, we’re all Latina so we don’t need to have uncomfortable conversations about race and we don’t have to talk about my privilege as a lighter-skinned individual because my life has been dictated in this country—and elsewhere—by that, so by centering it we’re making sure that those who have the privilege to make the changes for people that look like us are doing that and that we continue to name anti-Blackness.”

Casandra Rosario, founder of The Rosario Group and Food Before Love

Photo: Casandra Rosario

On how she currently identifies…


“I only identify as Black. I may mention that my family is from Puerto Rico and, a lot of the time, I will also mention that I am as well. But we always get back to me being Black, so I’ve been working on just starting there.”

On whether or not there’s been a shift in the way she identifies…

“As I learn more about myself, where I am from and who I am from, I think my identity is in constant evolution. However, being Black is the one thing that is constant no matter what magical word I use for others to feel more comfortable about being able to place me. For a long time, I was strongly identifying as being Afro-Latina but over the years, I’ve tried using it less and less. At some point there was a shift in my personal life where I felt people thought I only wanted to be known as that, and they addressed me as such. While in the beginning it was refreshing to feel like others—and I personally—were given something that I thought embraced my cultural and genetic makeup. I still found myself being referenced separately from other Black women because of it. As if ‘the kind of Black’ that I am was different in a way. That got tired for me really quickly.”

On if there has been a shift in the way the term Afro-Latina has been used…

“I do believe the term Afro-Latina is being changed by a lot of people, and I think everyone using it has contributed in some way mainly because everyone has different definitions of what that actually means. It has become a trend; it’s excluded people that felt they should be included and it’s included people who others felt it shouldn’t have. At this point, it’s messy. It really breaks my heart to see something that helped me understand myself better, turn into something that I can’t make sense of most days.”

On the importance of centering Blackness…

“It wasn’t until I heard what Afro-Latina meant, that I felt I was able to embrace my Blackness and take the time to understand what my identity was. It’s the pure acknowledgment of Blackness that brings pride, understanding and wholeness to so many Latin cultures that are deeply rooted in negating it. It’s important for me to acknowledge my ancestors and feel whole about who I am and acknowledging que soy negra does that for me.”

Dash Harris, producer of Negro and co-founder at AfroLatino Travel

Photo: Courtesy of Dash Harris

On how she currently identifies…

“As a Black woman. Negra, whose family is from Panama. In solidarity with the region’s historical and present-day movements, I am Afro-descendant and Afro-Latina. In my house and my community, I am “mi negra” for loved ones only.”

On whether or not there’s been a shift in the way she identifies…


“The way I personally identify hasn’t changed, but my view of the utility of certain terms and words, has. I intentionally named my documentary series Negro because it demands your attention and among the Romance languages of the Americas, it is easily identifiable as ‘Black.’

Before I started my docu-series, I identified as Black and I projected that identity on anyone else who was Afro-descendant. I like the term ‘Afrodescendiente/Afro-descendant’ because it points to shared histories, commonalities, philosophies, cultures, religions, traditions, and experiences of those that are descendants of the African Diaspora.

I am the daughter of self-identified Black Panamanians who left their country feeling disturbed that ‘mejorar la raza,’ and the habit of calling dark-skinned people ‘monos,’ was commonplace. They were able to formulate those feelings in the U.S., name them and disrupt the transmission of them to their children. They were the ‘radicals’ of their families, even though all of their family members identified as Black. White supremacy is so normalized that although you may not try to escape your Blackness, you think it normal for society to deride it. You don’t challenge it, you participate in it, you maintain it, you perpetuate it, and it continues unmitigated and intact.”

On if there has been a shift in the way the term Afro-Latina has been used…

“Nine years ago, I didn’t allow much room for any other terminologies or expressions of Afro-descendant identity, when it came to a person of African descent, especially those who are unambiguously of African descent. There are those who use various terms to distance themselves from Blackness, ‘I’m not Black, I’m mulatto,’ but it’s important to keep in mind:


This is just another contemporary societal reality of the colonial hierarchy that Latin Americans have been conditioned to perform. Mulatto is a higher caste, and that means a closer proximity to whiteness and better access in society. ‘Negro’ and ‘mulatto’ were (and still are) considered two different social categorizations. Although it may seem like a distancing, everyone knows that a mulatto (in this context) is a person of European and African ancestry.

Someone’s expression of their Blackness doesn’t pay my Navient bill, and there is a learning curve in all of our white-worshipping education systems. You can’t blame the victim. I had to grant that space and understanding.”

On the importance of centering Blackness…

“It is important to center this specific Afro-descendant Blackness because although the U.S. Afro-Latinx movement may be ‘new’ to some, it certainly is not new in Latin America and the Caribbean. We have been Black, negrx, and Afro-descendant before academia decided to ‘legitimize’ the terms. The experience of a white Latin American with African ancestry will differ exponentially from a Latin American who is ancestrally and phenotypically African-descended. How one looks matters in society and folks know the difference. It is disingenuous to pretend that the term ‘Afro-descendant’ suddenly shields Black Latin Americans from being targeted and killed by law enforcement (who ‘somehow’ seem to know who is white and Black with no difficulties).

This U.S. conversation should center the ones who will be 2.5 times more likely to live in chronic poverty; those who will be underpaid and unemployed; those who are 243% more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes and routinely denied access to adequate food, housing, infrastructure in their communities, job opportunities, education, and decision-making positions in the media and government.”

Jamila Aisha Brown, digital strategist, writer and founder of HUE Global

Courtesy of Jamila Aisha Brown

On how she currently identifies…

“Afro-Latina.”

On whether or not there’s been a shift in the way she identifies…

“It hasn’t because I was raised with a strong sense of who I am as a Black person of Latin American descent. I only use Afro-Latina because it’s a descriptor that encompasses race and ethnicity. But in whatever language or context, I’m Black/Negra.”

On if there has been a shift in the way the term Afro-Latina has been used…

“I think that Afro-Latinas have become more visible due to decades (really centuries) of Black Latinx folks demanding representation. Social media has certainly helped as we’re able to own and control our narratives more.”

On the importance of centering Blackness…


“My parents always told me that ‘Black people are everywhere.’ And without them using the terminology, they were teaching me about the African Diaspora and to learn, love and understand that all Black people are connected and there’s not one singular way to be Black.”

Sandra Martinez, founder of Piritees

Courtesy of Sandra Martinez

On how she currently identifies…

“As a Black women from Puerto Rican and Dominican descendants. However, I don’t mind using the term Afro-Latina or Afro-latinx.”

On whether or not there’s been a shift in the way she identifies…

“Not really. But, lately, I have been wondering whether I use the terms  Afro-Latina or Afro-Latinx to ease other people’s confusion of me. I get tired of explaining who I am or, whether the terms are the perfect marriage that celebrates who I really am…a Black Latina.

I also think that Black Latinx people have to constantly defend their Blackness because we speak Spanish but other Caribbean descendants not so much. For example, those from Jamaica, Barbados, Saint, Lucia or Haiti don’t necessarily have to preface how they identify by saying their Afro-Caribbean. They are simply Black people from Caribbean descent. Why is Rihanna easily accepted as a Black women but, Amara La Negra is not?

I think because we, Black Latinx people, or our family members speak Spanish, society has made it an us vs. them methodology as a way to divide and conquer. I also think that people need to address their own stereotypical version of what they think a Latina/o/x is supposed to look like. Maybe once that happens, Afro-descendant, Latinx people can finally get invited to have a seat at the table.

On if there has been a shift in the way the term Afro-Latina has been used…

“Terms like Afro-Latina/o/x have become more mainstream and trendier. However, I don’t know if it’s because more Latinx people are now acknowledging their Black roots, or if they’re  just jumping on the bandwagon for the hashtag.”

On the importance of centering Blackness…

“I operate in this world as a Black woman. Culturally, I am Latina and I am very proud to be Puerto Rican and Dominican but, racially I am and will also be Black.”