“Yo soy negra” used to be just the words of a poem for me. I’d say these supossedly poetic words while the piraguero of paseo de diego in Río Piedras called me trigueña linda and I’d belt those same words anytime the women in the Dominican enclaves called me “india chula”. “Yo soy negra!” I’d say the words with a flirtacious smile and bat my eye lashes. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that the words, “yo soy negra”, for a black woman who carries the trauma of colonialism and antiblackness within her skin and throughout her notorious pelo grifo, were revolutionary words, some of the most revolutionary words she could say. “Yo soy negra” are three words, three basic words of self-recognition and ancestral recognition, the keys to the path of healing. In Puerto Rico, recognition is a part of daily life. While eating mantecado de maíz en la plaza de Mayagüez, someone, anyone will wish you buen provecho, because in Puerto Rico now reconocemos even when doing a task as simple as eating. For me, “yo soy negra” precisely comes from the same notion as “buen provecho”, reconocimiento. Reconocer is how we connect to ourselves and to others, but, to be clear, reconocimiento is only the beginning of revolution and healing. The Afrolatinidad movement was once a movement, and arguably still a movement but stands in what seems to be a stagnant place, of just the recognition part, just the “yo soy negra”. Once you say the words “yo soy negra”, you’ll realize that being black goes beyond skin and hair and that’s what must be worked. The Afrolatinidad movement is currently made up of many of the same conversations, centered around the same voices, concerned with the same perspectives largely influenced by an empire that has colonized and imperialized much of Latin America, the United States. This isn’t necessarily negative but I challenge those who advocate for Afrolatinidad to stretch, to do more, and to be more for the greater good of our blackness and our lives.
The Afrolatino movement has created a crucial space for individuals who identify as such to speak and to defend. In the United States, blackness is typically reserved for the African American experience which hereby causes Latinos of African descent to be erased from the way the mainstream media, academia and even the imperialistic U.S., Latino narrative portrays blackness. Because of this movement, there are now countless blogs dedicated to showcasing the blackness of primarily Spanish-speaking Latin America and the Caribbean. There’s The Latinegras Project who’s mission clearly states that they promote the narratives of “latinegras” “everywhere”. There’s the “Los Afrolatinos Blog” which “honors and celebrates the contributions of Africans, as well as their descendents who helped form and shape the culture of the Spanish and Portuguese speaking African descendants”. Besides promoting similar “entre aqui y alla” narratives, these blogs promote blackness as celebratory art form through food and music and they also occasionally deconstruct subtle and large nuances such as “pelo malo” and “pelo bueno”. While blackness is to be celebrated, we live in a society where to be black is dangerous, triggering and very political. Reclaiming our blackness is about celebrating the contributions of bkack people, but it’s also about healing undeniable traumas. Healing is more profound than mambo rhythms and the sancocho on a rainy day. Healing requires full physical, psychological, and emotional cooperation. In order to heal we must fearlessly enter processes that are beyond the “happy-go-lucky-negro” white gaze and be open to the temporary discomfort of deconstructing and healing traumas. Allnof the traumas we face must be handled with care and love individually but I argue that there are traumas more profound for afrolatinos than “being mistaken for African American” (which is only traumatic because of a level of erasure), or people refusing to refer to you as black because you are “Colombian” as the common narratives shared on said blogs.
Outside of these blogs exist several mainstream media articles which do indeed adequately deconstruct the myth that being black and Latino are mutually exclusive. They argue for the existence of Afrolatinidad and have been doing so through online media for the past several years. While it is important to deconstruct the “mutual exclusivity” of latinidad and blackness, the usage of the term latino has presented a bit of an ironic undertone. The term “Latino” has been used in the United States for decades to refer to people from the Latin American region, specifically and mostly Spanish Speaking, who immigrated to the United States. The term has been adopted by “Latinos” in an effort to maintain an identity in a country that has been largely, just black (African American) and white. The term however remains vague. Over the uears it has proven to confuse both Latinos and non-Latinos. It doesn’t recognize not the whiteness throughout Latin America, or the indigeneity throughout Latin America and certainly not the blackness throughout Latin America. Because of the aforementioned people naturally categorize “Latinos” as either Mestizos or often due to the gracious influence of the Chicano movement, as “brown” and sometimes as “other”. Even in some Pew Research studies, conducted in the United States, data is gathered from blacks, whites, and Latinos as if Latinos come from the same racial and cultural experience so therefore can be categorized as one. The term Afrolatino does the same thing except within the realms of blackness. Afrolatino categorizes afrodescendants from Latin America systemically as one.
While I advocate for unity throughout the Latin America and the Caribbean, and throughout the afrodescendant communities, Latin America and the Caribbean are so vast and densely populated that categorizing us as one would be ineffective. There are thousands of experiences even within a single country. Referring to afrodescendants in these regions as just one, is a way to perhaps unintentionally erase the narratives of so many black people based on a term that is entirely imperialistic due to its relevance in the United States. It calls for a unity amongst black people of different experiences that cause me to raise a few questions.
First and foremost I find it interesting that throughout this movement, Afro Brazilians are welcomed into the Afrolatino movement with open arms but black people from Guayana or Suriname which are also countries in South America are not readily considered Afrolatinos. I find for this reason the term to be partially vague, inconsiderate, and practically irresponsible. Another matter I mention is once again the importance of recognizing diversity.
The afrodescendant experience(s) in Guerrero, Mexico are much different than the afrodescendant experiences in Limón Costa Rica. Categorizing all of these experiences and more under one blanket term, in this case, “Afrolatinidad” could become problematic because reclamation of blackness is more than “skin deep”. Using a “should work for everyone” descriptor isn’t effective when it comes to empowering black people of so many different regions. We can stand in solidarity with one another, recognize our connections, but Latin America is not to be categorized as one thing of the same. There are so many different black histories in Latin America and the Caribbean and if we refuse to recognize that, by falling for this imperialistic latino nonsense we have “finally” called ourselves negros for no reason. In jibaro refrain this would be tanto nadar para ahogarse en la orilla.
Much of the Afrolatino movement is curated by people who live in the United States so therefore most of this movement is centered around claiming blackness in the midst of a country that believes black to mean African American, as previously mentioned. The problem is beyond not being seen as black. The erasure began before “we arrived”. It truly began with the building or “cuerpos nacionales” through movements and revolutions that did not include black people. As a result, black people are so marginalized and oppressed that no one even knows that they’re there. The point is, living in the United States even without the latest nikes or the upgraded cell phone, even if using government assistance to make ends meet, provides the vast majority of people with some sort of an internet connection. Having an internet connection, owning a blog, having the ability to see the value in your story and obtaining the tools to share it is a level of privilege that our black relatives living in certain places in the Dominican Republic or Colombia or Ecuador or Bolivia where there isn’t even running water do not have as much as the US which leads to the next point, navigating responsibility and privilege.
It is our responsibility as writers, advocates, and people with tools as empowering as the internet, to recognize that the work may have begun with us “becoming black” but the true work comes into working to document the black realities in Latin America as Alicia Anabel Santos and Renzo Divio have been spending countless hours doing. Perhaps you may not have the tools necessary to shoot a series of documentaries, documentaries can be problematic anyways, but it’s time to study racism, antiblackness, marginalization, and history in whichever Latin American country and work to deconstruct it and do your best to provide spaces for your black relatives in “the third world” to heal from it. La patria es un deber. To be clear, we have the necessary tools to denounce the marginalization of our people with the same blogs that focus on music and food. The world is larger than the United States.
Every February, in honor of “Black History Month” which was originally created to showcase, celebrate and remember the achievements and grievances of African Americans in the United States, mainstream media US based latino magazines such as Remezcla, Huffington Post Latino Voices, and even Latina Magazine, publish articles about what blackness means to Afrolatinos. Additionally, afrolatinos have been advocating for quite some time to be recognized within Black History Month which is clearly space to recognize the achievements of black people in the United States. Recognition, as previously mentioned, is one of the most important steps in this process but only if executed correctly. The goal needs to be clear. Are we recognizing Afro Puerto Rican, Arturo Shomburg for his excellent contributions in the United States or are we just repeating the same “I’m black too” rhetoric for 28 sometimes 29 days? Again, the world.is larger than the United States. If the advocacy for the recognition of Afrolatinos during the month of February is about some sort of selective solidarity with African Americans I find it excruciatingly ironic that Afrolatinos will mention a connection to black people from a completely different “Latin American” country rather than with African Americans who while not “Afrolatino” are also black people from a different country (and live in that same country). An African American may not readily know that there are black people in Perú just like an Afro Puerto Rican may not realize that there are black people in Honduras. Why would so many Afrolatinos choose to extend solidarity to just the Afro Puerto Rican outsodenof February? To be clear an Afro Puerto Rican has a narrative different than the Afro Peruvian and the African American and visa versa. “I’m black too” has also been a vague part of the movement.
Besides the “I’m black too” parts of the Afrolatino movement there exist the horribly egotistical “they’re idiots for not saying that they are black just as I have finally said” rhetoric which has cost the Afrolatino movement quite a bit of validity. A prime example would be the way in which Dominicans as a whole are often vilified within the Afrolatino movement for governmental policies that are inherently anti-black and objectively anti-Haitian. While I openly advocate against xenophobia in any country, I also advocate against the trickeled down imperialism that exists within many activist/progressive spaces in the United States. It is excruciatingly ironic the way in which Haiti which shares an island with the Dominican Republic as many Afrolatino scholars will have you know, is only welcomed into the Afrolatino space when the conversations are centered around Dominican governmental policy and every now and then vudun. US American exceptionalism is filthy. Again, recognizing your privilege as a person living in the United States with an internet connection matters. Perhaps your titi calls you india when really you’re negra con pelo lacio, this doesn’t necessarily always make your Titi violent, especially if she is black, rather she is a product of the marginalized system that she was raised in. If you want to deconstruct that, all you have to do is tell her that you’re black and how proud you are to be black. A person or persons not having the knowledge that you have is not a sign of stupidity, rather ignorance which is a very different thing. To be clear, no one in this movement has any business vilifying Dominicans for policy produced anti-haitinism considering the fact that everyone in this movement comes from a country with the same amount if not more racism where black people have practically zero leverage within the government who mandates them even if it has yet to be denounced or your perspective is so clouded with US American exceptionalism that you cannot see it.
The Afrolatino movement, while it has provided space for narratives to be written about reclaiming blackness as celebratory which is crucial, it also provided space for <<anyone>> to write a narrative. To be frank, this means that the movement has allowed and continues to allow for white Latinos who all of a sudden decided to claim blackness whilst not actually living under the perils of being black to write poems about being “black”. The Afrolatino movement has yet to properly deconstruct the concept of mestizaje and which allows for anyone to claim to be black and for white people to deny their privilege based on colorism because “we can all be black”. This does not allow space for narratives from Latin American because at this point it can be interpreted that all of Latin America is black and criollos are really just light skinned black people. Since everything and everyone is black and all of this blackness belongs to everyone because everyone is black and thats that.
Afrolatinidad has become something absolutely ancestral rather than recognized as a part of the present. It’s easy for white people to see blackness as ancestral, they adore when we speak about tradition, dance to drums, talk about yemaya as if the orishas are hipster symbols but once we make blackness about the now, we have to concern ourselves with traumas which tends to discomfort both them and the blacks who are in total denial of said traumss. Cognitave dissonance is the term. Besides white latinos in the United States referring to themselves as black now, there is also room for the exploitative non-latino scholars and bloggers, such as Henry Louis Gates who have traveled to Latin American countries to film documentaries. Gates is from the US, a well rounded scholar but he hardly provided a historical representation of the countries that he visited which invalidated much of his work. It went from educational to exploitation. Ex: in his series about the Dominican Republic he mentioned the term “indio” being used instead of “negro” with no mention of the fact that historically “los negros” in the Dominican Republic referred to black slaves of Haiti. There’s also the non Latinos who somehow learned Spanish and feel it within their purpose to enter countries to conduct doctoral research (or just write basic articles about things they can’t really understand) and write books on the lives of people they have bothered, researched, bothered as if fetishes. Besides the exploitation from non Latinos there’s the Latino scholars who are always invited to present, and since they are able to articulate a point in a brilliant way even if it is complete garbage (as they often are) they are trusted as the “pioneers” of afrolatinidad however they can barely articulate race politics outside of a US lens. They haven’t put in the work or the effort because as I have mentioned the US lens is cloudy and the term “afrolatino”/”afrolatinidad” is very confusing and they sadly believe only one lens to be necessary for liberation. The world is larger than the US. I believe that everyone deserves a position in this process, regardless of class status and word choice. The same names who bring up the same comfortable “white people will be fine with this right here” points in the movement have not proven themselves to be effective.
The Afrolatino movement has stretched, gotten up to the starting line but hasn’t bent down into “ready” position yet. Afrolatinidad is still overly poetic, kumbaya, music and food, fetishes, yemaya, drums, “mi abuela era negra”, “Im also black even though Im white” and just barely revolutionary, just barely focused on deconstructing white supremacy and patriarchy, just barely deconstructing all levels of the erasure. My words “yo soy negra” became revolutionary when I was ready to deconstruct the usage of safe words like “trigueña” and “moreno” and those three simple words have become even more revolutionary as I have worked to deconstruct the version of patriarchy I suffer because I am negra. The words “yo soy negra” became revolutionary for me when I made the decision to put in the necessary work to heal ancestral trauma and personal trauma.
I challenge everyone who considers themselves to be a part of this crucial Afrolatino movement to do more. We’re stretched out, hovering over the start line but I can guarantee you no one’s going to run this race for us. We have the resources and we have the ability. For now, it’s time to sweat, to cry, to hurt, to dig into the hurts, and relentlessly seguir plante. This is how we heal and when we choose healing we always win. We deserve this. We have to decolonize our language, provide more focus on blacks in Latin America, refuse the hierarchal structure that only allows for a select few to speak on the subject, create a stronger system of solidarity between black people regardless of language (because language in this context is a part of colonial trauma) and refuse US American exceptionalism and trickled down imperialism within the movements. The traumas we carry have to be worked and healed. To be clear, it all matters, all of the narratives matter but I call for a shift and I challenge us to collectively do more in the name of blackness black people and our survival. Que viva la negritud! Que viva la afrodescendencia!