I received my degree in Spanish Culture and Literature—which means I spent four years of my life studying the displacement of peoples, colonization, and the slave trade in Latin America and reading the literary works surrounding these topics. And one of the concepts that always stuck with me was that of ‘mestisaje.’ Mestisaje was a practice embraced by many Latin American countries in order to mix the races and minimize the non-white population— you may know it as the nefarious concept of ‘mejorar la raza’. Introduce to that the caste system of the Spanish colonial period, a system that differentiated between individuals and placed them into one of many categories: Peninsulares (Spaniards), Criollos (a person of Spanish descent), Indios (Indigenous folks), Negros (people of African descent), Mestizos (Spanish and Indigenous mix) and Mulattos (European and African). It’s easy to see just how fraught with tension the Latinx identity has been throughout history.
As an Afro-Latina, there was always one part of my identity that was not up for debate: my blackness. I’ve been a mulatta in Spain, a redbone in Florida and a morena in the Dominican Republic. I’ve been asked “what are you mixed with?” more times than I can count (per family records it’s African, Spanish, French, Chinese and Taino). As a black Dominican woman, it seems outlandish to me that so many from my own island and throughout Latin America seem to discard or deny their blackness, yet here we are.
So when I found out that Ghana launched a new initiative urging descendants of the slave trade to repatriate or visit the country as a reclamation of their African roots, it immediately sparked my interest. I wondered: exactly what does this initiative mean for Afro-Latinx people, many of whom have been discriminated against in their own countries?
The information I found online about Ghana’s ‘Year of Return’ was scarce. President Akufo-Addo had visited the U.S. to announce the launch of the initiative and the Ghanaian Tourism Authority had a role in the effort. But there was little more to go on other than what looked to be a push to get more African Americans to visit the West African nation.
So I went straight to the source. Diallo Sumbry, owner of The Adinkra Group and purveyor of Birthright tours to Ghana, is one of the creative minds that is working to develop ‘The Year of Return’ campaign.
“This is more than a tourism marketing initiative,” Sumbry told me. “This is more of a spiritual journey for people of the diaspora. Displaced peoples don’t know their natural home, and since Ghana was the first free African nation, this partnership just makes sense.”
The timing of the campaign is a thoughtful one: the United States Congress recently passed H.R. 1242 which established a commission to commemorate the arrival of (enslaved) Africans in the US colonies. This commission is tasked with developing programs that ‘acknowledge the impact that slavery and laws that enforce racial discrimination had on the United States’. And it also provided the perfect starting point for Ghana to launch its year-long reunification effort.
Festivities will be taking place throughout 2019 as part of ‘The Year of Return’ and include a concert hosted by Damian Marley in January, a Back to Africa Festival during black history month, and even a Ghana Carnival in November, just to name a few of the scheduled events.
While the initial launch of ‘The Year of Return’ campaign appears to be marketed to African Americans, the Ghanaian government is, in fact, eager to extend the invitation to all members of the African diaspora. They just need more local leaders, particularly throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, to step up and help implement marketing efforts within their local communities.
This means there is a great opportunity for leaders within Afro-Latinx communities to encourage others to embrace their heritage and represent for the culture.
Will you be visiting Ghana in 2019?