Afro-Latinx or Afro-Latino(a) are now widely-recognized terms. However, the identifier has been called into question with a recent mitú article, “As A Haitian-American Woman, I Know I’m Afro-Latina But It’s Time For You To Acknowledge It, Too,” sparking the question: Are Haitians Afro-Latinx?
Written by Duke University PhD student Ayanna Legros, the article details why she identifies as Afro-Latina. The Haitian-American historian, who also identifies as Black and Caribbean-American, affirms her stance by highlighting the history of the first independent nation in the Western Hemisphere and its geographic location, as well as her upbringing.
“I identify as Afro-Latina because my family comes from an island in Latin America. I claim Afro-Latina identity to acknowledge the critical contributions Haiti has made throughout the region. I am Afro-Latina because my ancestors gave Latin Americans an alternative to enslavement. When I assert the term, I am declaring that every Independence Day Latinxs celebrate would not exist without Haiti,” Legros wrote in the article. “When I embrace the word, I am no longer allowing my fellow Latinxs to exclude Haiti and to deny this Black Latin American history.”
The article makes space for those of Haitian descent that ethnically identify as Afro-Latinx, but not all Haitian and Haitian-Americans agree with Legros. The article’s comments section is filled with criticism, support and, unfortunately, personal attacks.
“I am Haitian. I am African. That’s more than enough,” writes Priscilla Davies, who disagrees with Haitians referring to themselves as Afro-Latinx.
Another commenter, Jeff P. Bois, writes: “We are closer to Africa than any other culture, we take pride in that, Africa is our mother land, we love it! If America or Latin America want to distance themselves, frankly my dear we don’t give a …” Others believe the article is an attempt to distance Haiti from its African roots. The writer disagrees.
“I was most surprised by the notion that declaring myself as Afro-Latina was an attempt to push away my Blackness and/or my Haitian identity,” says Legros to HipLatina via email. “To use the term Afro is to place oneself within a project of Black affirmation.”
The piece is more than an assertion of identity, but a recognition that identity is layered and ever evolving. “I wanted to write that piece for fellow young Haitian women who are journeying through their identity and learning the complexities of living in a diaspora and feeling connected to multiple spaces at once.”
To fully understand both positions, you have to go back to the origin of the word. Afro-Latinx is used to describe a person of African descent in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, as well as those of African descent in the U.S. whose origins are in Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s often viewed as more inclusive with terms like Hispanic, which implies direct connection to Spain, or Latinx, a person of Latin American descent, excluding African ancestry. But even Afro-Latinx, the gender-neutral term for Afro-Latina or Afro-Latino, has been called into question for excluding those who don’t speak Spanish, and instead speak other languages like French or Haitian Creole.
Dr. Griselda Rodriguez-Solomon, an Afro-Latina professor, sociologist and doula, agrees with Legros’ position on Haitian identity. “Haitians are very much Afro-Latinos,” she says. “If anything, Afro-Latinos owe alot to Haitians as they were the first Black nation to liberate themselves from a colonial ruling power. We must look at the racial projects that were imposed onto different Latin American and Caribbean nations to better understand why Haiti is often left out of conversations around Afro-Latinidad.”
That erasure has led Haitian-American women like Genevieve Angelique to not consider using the term Afro-Latina. “I could claim the term, but I don’t. We’ve been socialized to think that’s not me,” she shares. “I have an understanding that Haiti is in Latin America, so technically we can call ourselves Latino, Latina, Latinx but I feel like most of us don’t.”
The Boston-based events blogger, writer and radio personality notes that her hesitation in using the term could have something to do with how her identity is viewed in relation to Haiti’s neighboring country, the Dominican Republic. Growing up in the 90s, she was very aware of her Haitian-American and Black identity. The daughter of immigrants, Angelique can recount experiencing colorism from the Latin American community as well as prejudices within the Black community. “Being Haitian, you just have this awareness of even being among Black people as an ‘other.’”
This topic and those surrounding race, ethnicity and nationality have been discussed by well-known social media personality Jessie Woo, who is of Haitian descent. Although she doesn’t identify as Afro-Latina, the comedian broke down its meaning in a video that went viral, after Charlamagne The God of The Breakfast Club struggled to comprehend Amara La Negra’s Afro-Latina identity and media’s erasure of darker-skinned Latinas.
So, are Haitians Afro-Latinx? Haitian and Haitian-Americans, like anyone, can choose whichever term best describes their identity. Whether they choose to ID with their nationality, ethnicity or race, it’s based on preference. But what’s clear is colonialism, uprising, pride and resilience, have helped shape Haiti’s identity.
“Haiti is a proud Black nation, as it should be. This pride has been sustained in the face of much resistance from colonial powers such as France and Spain. Understandably so, Haitians have had to fight to remain Black in spite of so many forces swaying them away from such identities,” says Dr. Rodriguez- Solomon. “So it may be that, in order to sustain a sense of Black pride, Haitians would rather deny any ties to colonial pasts. Identifying as Latino/Latin American may be perceived as a way of watering down a sense of African pride that has taken so much to sustain.”