Mixed Afro-Latinos or Tainos? It is time to rewrite Caribbean history through the lens of its original people: The Caribe people never disappeared.

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Amazing Afro-Dominican poetesses. Though they consider themselves to be of African descent, these women truly favor the Caribe heritage first. Their skin tone is that of the Caribe/Tainos, not of the West Africans/Credit: all photos belong to the women pictured above
Carib woman, portrait. What is the difference with the three women above?/Credit: NPR

During the Black Lives Matter protests we have been the first to witness the destruction of statues honoring racist political figures responsible for the destruction of the black body over the years. That was not a revolution per se for, on the inside, the institutions are still being dominated by Eurocentric historians who rewrite the history of minorities as they please. As a historian myself, it is more than important to understand that the change is already there and will always come from within. Statues of criminals have been erected only because the narrative of history has been dominated by White Eurocentrist themselves. Though many of us have been trying to reconnect with a lost past and stolen, broken and bruised heritage we were never transmitted, we still identify with the codes left by the slave masters. The geographical world as we know it today is the consequence of such colonial tactics. Many Latin American nations such as Colombia or Venezuela have been named after mass murderer Colombus or places in Italy. Islands such as the Dominican Republic/Haiti, Puerto-Rico or Cuba still carry colonial names. Worst, despite it all, North, Central, Caribbean and South Americans are STILL referred to as LATINOS, hence a racist term which designates the identity of their colonizers. After four hundred years of genocide, crime and rape, the Southern Americans are still carrying the name of their oppressors.

Taina Irka Mateo talks about the existence of the Taino culture today

Recently, the fight for the recognition of the Afro-latin category has become more and more visible over the past five years. Yet, the movement was already there years before but was not deemed important enough to be brought up. Plus, the original Afro-Latinos who were the subject of such studies were actually West African and Central Bantu looking and seemed to have little to no admixture. Though the Afro-Latin movement deserves support, it has become easy for anybody to now claim an African lineage and be a part of the conversation. And for this reason, as the movement had to be accepted in the mainstream field, the majority of the new Afro-Latinos presented are mixed-race and actually descend from the original Negroid populations one still can find in Honduras among the Garifunas, Colombia among the Palenqueros, Brazil or Panama (among many other countries).

Despite Afro-Cuban Juju, on the far left, the three other women are considered Afro-Latinas and so are they, yet they are mixed Afro-Latinas who also have Native American features too. Unfortunately, in a matter of fifteen years, mixed Black Latinos have become the new face of the movement/Credit:Madame Noire

Actually, most Afro-Latinos today who want to represent the movement look way more native Caribe than West African and Central Bantu. And for this reason, a real confusion is taking place regarding this topic. There should be no question regarding the characteristics which make one person black in Latin America. Indeed, if the individuals do not look West African or Central Bantu to the fullest, they are not purely black. However, many race mixing took place between the indigenous Tainos/Caribe people and the Africans and for this reason, millions of brown Caribbeans who identify as black due to the color of their skin ignore that they are the actual descendants of Tainos.

If the emphasis of the Afro-Latin movement was put on Blacks then what about the Native populations then? The latter seem to be the most forgotten in the issue. Indeed, what about the preservation of the culture but also who gives a voice to the Taino descendants who want to preserve the heritage? They are simply ignored, unfortunately. In the fight for the recognition of Afro-Latinidad, I have often met individuals who claimed pride in their blackness when they actually looked Natives.

It was OBVIOUS that the Tainos NEVER disappeared. They still live inside most Boricuas today! Yet, it’s the Spanish narrative which counts. As usual.

Contrary to many Black historians who want to darken the history of Latin America, not all South American countries counted a huge porportion of Blacks at all. Chile, Argentine, Paraguay and Uruguay are some of the most whitewashed Latin countries. Though a black intellectual intelligentsia managed to preserve the heritage and history of their ancestors in the 19th century, for they were exposed to education and created many scientific reviews, they are now mostly diluted now. The Afro-Chilean community is almost instinct and the people who proudly claim to descend from the Africans truly are of Native Chilean stock with a little black admixture. Therefore, the black blood they proudly carry does not make them black Africans per se but rather Indigenous Chileans with African admixture.

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Native Chileans representing their African heritage. Though they do have an African heritage, they are truly Native Chileans with a recent African admixture, but they are Natives, first/Credit:Nationalia

Racism and colonialism in the southern sphere was deeply rooted in the evil mechanisms promoted by the Latin people. Unlike the Northern Europeans who promoted policies of apartheid to keep their races pure, Latin people (French, Italians, Portuguese and Spaniards), had no issue raping and mixing with the indigenous and enslaved African population so as to confuse them from the core. Such tactics were applied to other African countries such as Cape-Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Angola or Mozambique. From there, a new confused racial caste was created and the propaganda evolving around the fetishism of these mixes was born. There could be no racism for everybody had been mixed with one another.

Mexican activist Citlalli explains how one should not be afraid to claim Native despite the significant white blood. Your ancestors were raped.

In this quest, the same European historians not only became the main narrators regarding the history of Latin America but they also contributed to decide about the beginning and future of the Native Americans as well. According to Eurocentrist scientists and historians, the Tainos had disappeared. Yet, such claims never made any sense at all. Indeed, if millions of Boricuas still carry the blood of the Caribe Borinquens inside of them, how could such people ever vanish then? Such narrative was nothing less but the desire of Europeans to sit and become the new founders of the island. The Tainos had to be regarded as a mythical people with mythical beliefs, almost not real when they were extremely present and still live inside many Boricuas today.

By believing in this racist nonsense and historical manipulation, many Boricuas attribute their distinctive features to their European or African genes, all the while ignoring that an original Taino people was the first inhabitants of the island and that, despite the invasions, they do descend from them.

Every human being was born into one specific stock, yet over the years he can be mixed with other stocks as well. However, the admixture can not take away the fact that he originally belonged to one stock. And such factors are highly recognizable. Many modern day Boricua public figures are wrongly called “Spanish” and are the direct descendants of Tainos, yet they will explain their features by the presence of Spanish blood in them. Spanish identity thus becomes the original stock and the original face of indigenous history.

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Angie Martinez is not a White Latina. She is Taina with a White heritage due to the rape of her ancestors/Credit:Getty Image

Due to the false narrative promoting the extinction of the Natives, their various physical characteristics have also been forgotten too. Therefore, when a black American falsely accuses a woman to be a “White Boricua” thinking that the real Boricuas are supposed to be West African-like, they speak out of ignorance and forget that these so-called “white Boricuas” are not white, but the descendants of raped Native Tainos.

Defining Afro-Latinidad through skin tone makes no sense at all. Indeed, the Caribe people were brown skin and many other Native groups which can be found in Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia or sometimes Argentina. They had a very brown skin and some were also close to black, but not a Negroid blackness at all, more of a Polynesian/Melanasian blackness. As a consequence, the skin tone is not an indication of a West African heritage at all. Cuban music legend Celia Cruz surely had a Native American admixture but she was clearly of West African heritage. Yet, tv reality figures such as Evelyn Lozada are originally native with a recent West African admixture. Yet, they remain Natives too. Rapper and journalist Angie Martinez was wrongly called a White Boricua when she is clearly Native Taina with a Spanish admixture and possibly an African heritage too -which is sure.

Yet, the Taino phenotype is not well recognised and acknowledged as many still believe in the official story written by the Spaniards regarding a so-called extinction of their race.

Many Afro-Latinos today, or people who consider themselves to be Afro-Latinos, are in fact mixed people with a African and Native stocks combined together. Many are Tainos first with a little African admixture. Yet, if the Taino heritage keeps being forgotten, the confusion will remain and the original descendants of enslaved Africans living in the Caribbean and South America are still forgotten too and living in isolation. In this same case, a Black Colombian can be of West African or Bantu heritage with a recent Native heritage too but the native heritage does not erase the fact that they are the original descendants of West Africans and Bantu people.

The lie of identity also is supported by most mainstream media destinated to the Latin audience. As Mexican activist Citlalli said several times since 1997, the media are controlled by the descendants of the Spaniards who colonised, hence White Criollos who will always favor mixed people who look like them. These racist tools will not only promote the whitest phenotypes but they will perpetuate racist agenda by exluding the Native phenotypes they do not deem beautiful enough. In the same case, the Afro-Latinos who will be promoted are mixed and not fully Negroid just like the Natives, who remain isolated.

The exploration of the past would be better if it goes along with the elaboration of distinctive groups. Not to divide again but to understand, reconstruct and destroy the colonial narrative promoted by the Spaniards. After having killed, massacred, raped, tortured and dominated two groups (the Africans and the indigenous Tainos/Caribes), history can no longer be interpreted through the lens of White people. They have no rights to decide who is African, Native or other. New Boricua scholars should re-explore the narrative within their own, first and foremost.

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