The issue of Afrolatinidad has always been extremely important for me as I started to really become involved in such matters by the age of fourteen. At that time in the early to mid 2000s, the impact of mental colonialism among the South American and Caribbean diaspora was extremely present. The evolution of the questions related to such topics can be attributed to the explosion of the Internet and Youtube. I do remember how, many of my Peruvian friends with deep Native American features would somehow do anything in their power to appear way more European and even deny to be the descendants of Incas. Only a few groups were active and tried to fight against the colonial heritage through the spread of education and the exploration of the history of the ancestors. The election of Evo Morales in Bolivia greatly helped regarding the question of native identity and indigenous rights. Despite that, most of my Caribbean and South American friends hoped to have a whiter heritage and truly considered Spain to be “la madre tierra” (the Motherland).
The fight for the recognition of the Afro-Latinos was even worst. Bear in mind that, if the election of Evo Morales had just given light to the importance of native identity, the Afro-Latinos were even more secluded and isolated than them! An Afro-Latino was not meant to speak, express their opinions and let alone take pride in their blackness. That question was an irritating taboo as many would clearly boast about being the descendants of Native Indians while looking West African Negroid and Bantu. That community was specifically damaged by centuries of colonialism. In this sense, the Afro-Cubans, though not free from colorism as well, belonged to the small category of Africans who somehow expressed their pride in their African-ness. The Dominicans at the time were against the afro hair and the women were definitely attached to relaxers. Blackness and Latinidad were therefore, topic taboos no one really dared to speak about. Actually, speaking about Spanish colonialism could easily make you lose many friends.
In the beginning, the Afro-Latin movement really focused on the original Afro-Latinos, hence those no one dared to show on TV. They were brown to dark skin, with 4C type of hair, and they did favor the phenotypes of their West African and Kongo Bantu ancestors. From Costa-Rica, Panama, to Colombia or the Dominican Republic, the very first South American scholars who focused on the topic actually ONLY interviewed this category. Yet, with the explosion of the questions regarding blackness, the issue of Afrolatinidad has become important again, and this time, fifteen years later, the new faces of the movement were not those we could witness fifteen years ago. Indeed, the modern representants are mixed-race Afro-Latinos, not the originals.
The topic of Afrolatinidad is no longer underground like it used to be and now, the Latin media have been marketing it to the fullest. The journalists, writers and TV hosts as well as the moguls who control the Latin channels, even in Brazil, are White Criollos, or direct descendants of colonizers from Spain and other European countries. As you know, culture is a reflection of politics. And though Hugo Chavez was not perfect, his election was a real problem for many. Indeed, many non-South Americans do not care about the political life of the region and ignore that the continent and the Caribbean are still under colonial rule, form the United States first of all but also Western Europe. The majority of the presidents elected are not Black or Native but always White, sometimes, they do not have any blood relation to the continent. The Latin colonizers- understand the Potuguese and the Spaniards- have managed to keep their pawns in the region to secure their power and influence in the minds of the citizens. Countries such as Brazil with a significant black population never elected a Black president at all. Never. Not even Cuba. If Fidel Castro was a panafricanist and supported the advancement of the Motherland, the leaders in Cuban politics are still white. Mostly.
In that sense, the White Criollo Media through all their forms, whether Latina Magazine or Telemundo, will always favor whiteness, Spaniard identity in order to secure the false colonial narrative which would make the colonizers the original founders of the South American/Caribbean region. The purpose of these media is to elevate the various populations of the sphere aforementioned with phenotypes and looks which are closer to that of the Europeans. For this reason, the original Bantu Afro-Latinos and the pure Native Americans are NEVER placed on the cover of Latina Magazine and other outlets. As a consequence, they remain in the silent sphere and in isolation. Women like Eva Longoria can grace any magazine cover for being indigenous but mixed with a significant amount of European blood in them. (I am not judging Longoria here, she’s a nice woman very active for the Mexican community).
This colonial merchandizing tool also goes along with the false appelation given to the Caribbeans and South Americans. Since the presidency of Richard Nixon, the American administration did create a “Hispanic” category to refer to the immigrants who came from Latin countries. The term Hispanic is not only inaccurate but it is also rooted in ignorance, disdain and lack of respect for the various ethnicities which constitute the southern sphere. Hispanic does not refer to “South America” but to Spain. If so, how could a Native Taino from Puerto-Rico be called Hispanic when his blood and culture do not come from Spain but Puerto-Rico? How could a Black Costa-Rican be called “Hispanic” and come from Spain when his ancestors came from West and Central Africa? What can be said about the term Latino? Many modern Caribes and South Americans who are not White wrongly call themselves “Latinos” when such name actually designates the identity of the colonizers, hence the French, the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the Italians and even the Romanians. So, after having been tortured and diluted for more than four hundred years, the modern day population now has to be called by the name of their oppressors? No. Native Mexicans were never and never will be Latinos. Only White Criollos with roots in the said Latin countries or the mixed race populations who carry their blood could claim Latin.
The creation of the terms Hispanic and Latino is just another way to exclude, annihilate, destroy and crush the indigenous cultures and encourage the younger generations to look at the Spanish Crown as the original foundation of their heritage.
As a consequence, the mainstream issue of Afrolatinidad has seen many more visibility yes, but only through the exposure of mixed-race Afro-Latinos with figures such as Tatiana Ali, Gina Torres, Lala Vasquez, Zoe Saldana or even Amara La Negra. Indeed, even though she is dark skin in color, Amara is still mixed and does favor the phenotype of the Europeans. She is not a Negroid woman like the many Africans one can find in Limon. The exposition of these figures is colonial and contributes to the elevation of the mixed political body as the new face of blackness in the Western world. In both north and south America, the original Black Negroid individuals who were kidnapped five hundred years ago, along with their descendants are becoming invisible again. Their blackness is a problem, a burden and a threat to the colonizers who try to push them aside. The constant election of mixed race entities in the United States at the head of high responsability places is a proof of that. Outside of the United States, the disappearence of the Negroid Black American is blatant in the media. The latter has been replaced by quadroons, biracials and ambiguous looking individuals.
The modern mixed race Afro-Latinos with brown skin are not the original but the descendants of the pure Blacks the media still want to hide today. The Criollo media would like to showcase the phenotypes which look like the Whites out of fear the African heritage would become way too visibile. Actually, the Spaniard colonizers do feel threatened by the heritage of the Natives and the Africans for Spain never brought anything new to the area. Indeed, the Latin culture we know today is purely African first, then Native and finally from Spain.
Once again, the only pure Black entity exposed to celebrate black Latinos is Celia Cruz for she was festive and made every White Latino dance for decades. Yet, she seems to be the only one when there are plenty of Cruzes throughout the continent.
The Afro-Latinos chosen and exposed by the Criollo media are also always apart of the entertainment industry. This is also a racist colonial way to depict mixed-race Blacks and light skin Black Latinos as the eternal talented people whose only purpose is to dance. Why can’t these media speak about the countless mixed-race Black Latin authors such as Nicolas Guillen in Cuba who truly contributed to the elevation of Black identity in the region? Black Latinos were not only good to dance but truly were fighters and strong rebels who endlessly fought against Spanish, Portuguese, French and American imperialism. Zumbi dos Palmares in Brazil is one of them. The Afro-Latinos have always been at the forefront to celebrate their blackness, denounce oppression and racism through the various genres they created. Now totally whitewashed by the corporations, reggaeton was born in Panama and created by the Black Panamenos of the country it later arrived to Puerto-Rico and was deemed illegal too. Reggaetoneros such as Tego Calderon have never stopped using their voices to denounce the hypocrisy of the Latin leaders towards the African descendants. Yet again, once the musical genre becomes mainstream, Black people are excluded, isolated and whitewashed. Reggaeton was a music of protest and black excellence.
The Criollo media will never speak about the many Afro-Colombian groups for most of them are also involved in fights for the preservation of their natural environment. Black Colombian women and men have never stopped resisting the corruption of their country and the invasion of big corporations in their lands. Many have paid the price for it. These women are not diluted and remained almost Black, a legacy of their Bantu ancestors. The spirit of rebellion also present among the mixed Black Brazilians is also silenced by these Criollo media who barely spoke about the murder of Marielle Franco. When a mixed Black Latin woman or pure Black Latin woman refuses to dance, sing or sexualise her body, she is excluded, harassed or simply shot. In that sense, the body of a Black woman is still under attack by the colonial forces which govern and dominate the many nations of Latin America. Unfortunately, the Native American protestors also have to deal with the same consequences when rebelling.
Mixed Afro-Latinos have all the rights to represent their African identity but the emphasis should be put on the original Blacks first who remain in the dark. By placing the mixed race individuals at the center is a repetition of colonial history. The Spaniards and the Portuguese always despised but relied on the propaganda of race mixing to justify the cruelty of their actions in the spheres they conquered. Until this day, the argument of race mixing is used to silence the issues of racial discrimination and abuse in Latin America. How can there be any kind of racism if we are all mixed? It is also impossible to gatekeep the Afro-Latin heritage if mixed people are placed at the center. Indeed, the original Black West African/Kongo stock NEVER vanished and is still present. Yet, the exposition of their mixed descendants would also give way to the inclusion of anybody within the range of Afro-Latinidad. Indeed, if Gina Torres is accepted as a Black Cuban when racially mixed, why can’t Veronica Vega, a White blonde Caucasoid singer with an African great-grandmother claim Black too?
Actually, if mixed race Black Latinos have become the new faces of Afrolatinidad, for exploited by the White Criollo media, then why can’t we also create a specific category for the mixed White Latinos with African ancestry who also have a claim to the motherland for being the descendants of such lineages? When Veronica Vega claims that “everyone’s Black”, even if she poorly articulates her ideas, she means that the essence of the Caribbean culture is actually African, which is true. So a mixed White Latino with African ancestry actually grew up within the essence of African culture and also can claim to be apart of such heritage as well, while not being fully black. The mixed heritage regarding the legacy of Africa first concerns the original descendants who are purely Black with little to no admixture, then the mixed Afro-Latinos who descend from them and finally the mixed White Latinos who also carry the African lineages and grew up in the African Caribbean culture, not only through music but also through spirituality as well.
If mixed Black Latinos have become the faces of such movement then there should be no limit to determine who is black enough to represent the movement or not for those who represent are mixed. As a consequence, mixed race Fat Joe has all the rights to claim the Caribbean Latinos as a part of the black group for his own Boricua/Cuban culture was rooted in African culture and plus Fat Joe carries Negroid features as well.
It is also more than important to give light to the women and men who, throughout the Caribbean, organize to give voice and visibility to the Afro-Latin community. I will share with you some of their work below: