Being Black in a Latinx space is by design an othering experience. Just how melaninated you are, or tight and course your curls are, will determine which questions get funneled your way. As an adult, I now know these attempts to quantify how Latina I am and even validate my existence in said spaces are disrespectful and toxic to say the least.
I remember attending one of my first blogger events geared toward Latinx bloggers in 2014. There were lots of bloggers present and while I saw several familiar faces, I was eager to meet new people.
After a panel, I began chatting with two bloggers I’d never met about the information the panelists discussed. It was all cool until I was asked, “where are you from?” I was born in the U.S., but my parents were born in Honduras I shared. When I mentioned this, I could tell one of the bloggers was surprised. I took her shock as a sign she hadn’t met many Central Americans. I’ve gotten asked if I’m Dominican and Cuban—among other nationalities—but that was until she uttered her next question: “Which one of your parents is from Honduras?”
Now I was thrown off because I clearly articulated both were from Honduras. I was also annoyed I had to repeat myself because I’m certain she heard me the first time. But there was an unwillingness to accept I could also be Latina, like her, and a Black woman.
I’ve been in far too many conversations where upon finding out my last name, which isn’t a qualifier for Latinx existence, by the way, I’m asked covertly to prove it. Many white and even brown Latinxs have a way of trying to disprove your entire existence as a Black Latinx. My favorite tactic, switching the conversation to Spanish to see if you can keep up. Also not a qualifier, and the reverse of it—speaking to an Afro-Latinx person in English when the conversation is happening in Spanish—is equally as ignorant.
While no one has blatantly called me other or not Latina to my face (except for the time I had a back and forth with a classmate who said I wasn’t “Spanish,” which was used interchangeably with Latinx back in the day) their actions have been enough. However, I have heard from others that they’ve witnessed it verbalized firsthand.
“I remember being at an industry dinner one night with a table filled with Latina journalists and bloggers,” Johanna Ferreira (Deputy Editor of HipLatina) recalls. “One of them mentioned that she was Panamanian and from Miami. I told her how there’s a huge Panamanian community in New York—Brooklyn especially, and was then interrupted by another Latina (a friend of mine) who was like: ‘No, but the New York Panamanians are different.’”
It’s pretty clear what was meant by “different.” “It was in that moment that I saw how easily Latinas, even brown and Afro-Latina identifying, exclude Latinas who are darker-skinned from the community as a whole,” she continued. By calling out the racism, it made those at the table uncomfortable but, regardless, it was necessary.
The attempted erasure has very real consequences. Yes, we’re seeing more visibility on Spanish-language media with women like Ilia Calderón now in a primetime slot on Univision alongside Jorge Ramos, and Amara La Negra introducing Afro-Latinx identity to a new audience. But we’re still scratching the surface. While “othering” means lack of visibility in the states, it means oppression and physical harm for Afro-Latinxs across Latin American and the Caribbean. Just earlier this year queer human rights activist and councilwoman Marielle Franco was executed for her stance on injustices and being a vocal Black Brazilian woman.
Centering Afro-Latinx identity and concerns in media, as well as other predominantly white (Latinx) spaces, has created some room for us to discuss the racism that exists within our community. However, at times, it can still limit the conversation and, ultimately, representation to one set space. The demand for acknowledgment has morphed into tokenizing and even separation from Latinx identity.
I’ve seen it firsthand when panels on Latinx identity hosted by Latinx organizations or conferences are held and the entire panel is white. For some, the solution is to host an all Afro-Latinx panel as if the two identities can’t be present on the same panel, discussing identity, activism, politics, art, entertainment or whatever the topic at hand is.
Trust, this isn’t a call to “pick me (us).” We’ve existed for decades without acknowledgement. Terms like Afro-Latino/a/x were birthed out of a lack of representation and a demand for acknowledgement specifically in the context of Latinidad in the U.S. We’ve formed our own safe spaces, in-person and online, out of self-care and survival.
The demand is simple: Check your anti-Blackness. Just as you enjoy the Africanness of Latinx foods, music (cues salsa, merengue, bachata, tango and reggaeton, to name a few), dance and art, recognize the people who’ve made Latinidad what it is today.