Let me scream it extra loud so y’all can hear me in the back: LATINO IS NOT A RACE. Latinos come in all races, skin tones and backgrounds, from Chino-Cubanos to Afro-Peruvians, every single country in Latin America has a beautiful mix of racial identities to contend with. Indigenous, Asian, African, European and everything in between, Latin America has been colonized for hundreds of years and has seen an influx of immigrants from all over the world so at this point, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone from any Latin American country who can trace their lineage to only one racial background.
Now, I think as educated folks, we can all agree that race isn’t an actual scientific categorization, but rather a societal construct that has allowed those with privilege (mostly white European colonizers) to concentrate and maintain their power, wealth, and status while nation building. But no matter which way you slice it, race affects the way we are perceived by others and let me tell you, being Afro-Latinx is incredible, but it’s also really hard.
As an Afro-Latinx, identified as a Latinx who has and embraces their obvious African heritage, it’s been difficult explaining to my Black friends what my racial identity is. I never saw myself (or any Latinas with darker skin tones) represented in film, TV, music, fashion or beauty. Thank GOD for my father, who made it his mission to teach me about the three main cultures that make up Puerto Rican identity (Taino, Spanish/European, and African) and the fact that the Black parts of our ancestry were so often ignored and cast aside, even though they can be seen and felt in everything from the food we eat, to the music we listen, to to the hair we straighten. Black communities all across Latin America have been marginalized to the point where even if we have obvious African lineage, it’s often denied. There is undeniable shame and stigma attached to being Black across Latin America.
It’s important that we raise these new generations to not only recognize but to appreciate their mixed racial backgrounds and identities. As more of us grow up here in the United States and intermarry, our cultural and racial identities are going to continue growing in complexity and richness and that’s something that has to be celebrated. We can start by making sure our children know of the accomplishments of important historical figures that look like them (and that don’t look like them too). We must uphold role models, current and from the past, who buck the trends and have blazed a path. We have to teach them that no matter the texture of their hair or the color of their skin, they are beautiful and worthy. That being colorblind is NOT the goal, but rather celebrating in the richness of diversity and cultures. There is so much to learn from our indigenous and African ancestors, and if we don’t harness that knowledge and pass it down, we are only doing our children a disservice.
So let’s make sure to start by educating ourselves and making sure that we embrace each other’s differences as much as we embrace our similarities.