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.
At this moment in history, it’s important that instead of trying to shield our children from the news and the protests, we talk to them about what is going on in the world right now. Most of us still find ourselves under Safer at Home orders and are spending tons of time with our kids. Obviously gauge their ability to comprehend the current political and social situation and meet them at their level of development, but studies have shown that racial biases begin to raise their ugly heads as early as kindergarten. Even a four-year-old understands concepts like fairness and justice, so frame conversations around that. There are so many biographies about important abolitionist heroes like Harriet Tubman and freedom fighters like Rosa Parks that can serve as a simple entry point to these discussions.
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 any Black person can and will tell you, institutional racism is woven into the very fabric of this country, which is why it’s so hard to fight against. But ignoring it will not make it go away. And sooner or later, if you’re raising a little Brown or Black child, they will likely come face to face with it.
As an Afro-Latina, it’s been difficult explaining to my Black friends what my racial identity is. They recognize that I’m not white, but my experience as a Black Puerto Rican is super foreign to them because it doesn’t mirror their experiences as African Americans growing up in the U.S. and that’s okay. I struggled to find the language to explain how you could be both Latina AND Black as a kid, because as I noted at the start of this conversation, so many people see Latino as a racial designation and not just a cultural one. Thank God for my father, who made it his mission to teach me about the three main cultures that make up Puerto Rican ancestry (Taino, Spanish/European, and African) and the fact that the Black parts of our history 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 appreciate and uphold 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 need to share stories of role models, current and from the past, who 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 is.
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 start by educating ourselves and making sure that we embrace each other’s differences as much as we embrace our similarities. We have a moment to seize on right now, and it’s our responsibility to raise the next generation committed to equality, social justice, and dignity no matter the color of your skin or your cultural background. Let’s stop upholding proximity to whiteness as the end all and be all goal and measure of success for us here in the United States. That’s the only way we win.