, , , , ,

When Multiracial Presents as Black: Distinguishing Blackness From Afro-Latinidad and Black Mestizos

Image Credit: Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

The discussion regarding the identity of Afro-Latinos and the movement of Afro-Latinidad lacks one element. Afro-Latinidad does not always mean blackness.

Though some black Americans who grew up in New-York or in Miami were aware of the Latin Caribbean presence, they did not always knew about its history, past and above all, racial admixture. In a very ignorant way, both black Americans and Latin Caribbeans often refer to Latin Caribbean people as “Spanish” for speaking the language. This qualification which could be the result of naiveté or ignorance from the black side, for not being aware of the identity and heritage of the Latin Caribbean group, is even more alarming when the Latinos who use this appellation, are aware of the inaccurate context which places their identity at the center of whiteness, and thus, Spanish heritage.

As surprising as it is, more Afro-Latinos decided to speak out following the murder of George Floyd. Since the US Black Americans are American in essence, they mostly believe that their community is the center of global blackness. In reality, even in Western Europe, both black and white leftist agents who pretend to fight against racism, want to place European blackness (which is mostly African and Caribbean) within the spectrum of the black American experience, in order to create a standardization of blackness which would serve the principles of globalization, and thus capitalism.

The desire of placing all the members of the displaced African diaspora through the sole black American spectrum stems from capitalism. As stated many times in our other articles, the black Americans are a minority, it is true, but they are the number one minority living in the most powerful country on earth, the United States. Consequently, by getting closer to the black American experience, other black groups living in Western Europe also wish they would have a proximity to whiteness and thus, capitalism. To be fair, the only black European groups which could claim a likeliness to the US Black experience are the Black Belgians, Black Germans, Black Brits, Black Dutch, since their institutions, northern white Europeans, were the forefathers of the white U.S. leaders whose colonial policies were rooted in segregation and racial separation. The Black Latins such as the Afro-Spaniards, Afro-Italians, Afro-Portuguese, the Afro-French were colonised by other white leaders with specific colonial policies rooted in the principles of race mixing.

Black Puerto Ricans a century ago by Jack Delano, Library of Congress

If Black Caribbeans and South Americans were never surprised by the presence of Africans in their ranks for knowing about their history, it is important to notice that the Afro-Latinos who took to social media to express themselves regarding their oppression were not similar to their predecessors. Indeed, most of these neo-activists were born and raised in the US, often with black Americans. Their closeness to blackness did not always evolve from a connection to the African culture, which still exists in both the Caribbean and South America, but was directly attached to black Americans themselves. Most of these Afro-Latinos do not pay much attention to the Caribbean and South American worlds, but would rather be understood and loved by the black Americans, for also being aware of the capitalistic agenda which surrounds the black community.

As the movement grew over the years, confusion also arose. What was supposed to be a comprehensive movement created for isolated individuals who were co-founders of Caribbean and South American cultures, became a circus where thousand of white faces appeared to claim Afro-Latinidad. In a very defining moment in US reality TV, Veronica Vega, of Cuban and Venezuelan descent, clashed with Afro-Dominican Amara La Negra. The two insulted one another, and upon leaving, Vega shouted to the Dominican singer the following words: “Your skin might be darker, my skin may be lighter, but we all BLACK!”.

Veronica Vega claims blackness through a black African great-grandmother
The clash

During the reunion, Vega who defended her use of the n-word by claiming an African great-grandmother who was brought to Cuba, claimed that she considered herself black in front of unambiguous black Latin women like Juju Castaneda. The behavior of Veronica Vega did not sit well with the black American viewers who also began to consider the Afro-Latin movement to be a joke. Ever since, Vega was allegedly dropped from the music label of Polow Da Don, her former producer, and no longer has a career for having been deemed a racist. The same rhetoric regarding why and how Latin Caribbeans, whose families are often racist towards black Americans, can use the n-word was also questioned when it comes to rapper Fat Joe. Once again, the latter, during an interview at the radio, claimed that Latinos were black. If it is true that Caribbeans carry a high portion of African heritage, many South American countries, are either almost fully Native with a little bit of African, fully white, with a little dash of Native and African, or multiracial. Argentinians can not always claim to be as black as a Boricua or Cuban. Veronica Vega also stated that she claimed blackness due to her Cuban heritage.

The Cuban identity was formed through the idea of creolism. It was forged by the white Cuban leaders of Spanish descent through which an idea of equality between the Natives, Africans and Europeans had to be the supported narrative to instill the values of Cubanism. If it was proven that white Cubans often carry a certain proportion of African blood, not all Cubans are black. Many descend from Spaniards and Italians. Cubans can also be Japanese, Korean, and not all Afro-Cubans descend from Kongo and Yoruba neither, as Fon, Mandingo, Malian slaves were brought there as well.

In this screenshot from a PetTeaBlog video, Veronica Vega can be seen, before the show Love and Hip Hop Miami was even on, posing next to one real Black Latina with an unambiguous profile, hence faces and phenotypes the white Latin media never promote. Veronica Vega, though white, claims this form of unambiguous blackness in her blood. She thus knows about Amara being mixed-race and not a real Black Latina like the Dominican woman posing next to her.
Veronica is the three races, and is thus multiracial. She is of Native, European and African descent. Even if she looks much more European, her African ancestry can be much more higher than one thought, and so, even if none of her parents are black/Getty Images

If no one can deny the fact that Veronica Vega is a white woman, though she denies this reality, her remark towards Amara La Negra remains interesting. In her discourse, Vega did not dissociate herself from blackness/Africanness, as she simply considered Amara’s skin tone to be only darker. She dismissed the reality of blackness to globalize it and to place it in a common, shared identity present in each and every Caribbean. Through her words, Veronica Vega also highlighted one specific reality: Amara La Negra, who claims Afro-Latinidad after having become one of the representants of the movement, is not black, but mixed-race. The conversation which was held between the two women emphasises such issue. Veronica Vega and Amara La Negra are both mixed-race, but one’s attachment to her African heritage is being questioned for her use of the n-word and clownesque parody of Afro-Latinidad, but not the other.

US Blacks felt closer to Amara La Negra since they were conditioned to believe that race is determined through how one’s looks. Amara is viewed as a black woman for her dark skin, while being actually multiracial.

Amara La Negra is beautiful, but she is also a black Mestiza, even if she is dark skin since mixed people can also be dark. She is not a pure Black Latina/IG Amara La Negra

Consequently, over the past fifteen years, a change in the faces of Afro-Latinos took place. They originally were chosen as being unambiguous or as carrying little to no admixture. Many Afro-Ecuadorians, Afro-Peruvians, Afro-Cubans would fit this description. However, in the US media, as well as in the Latin media owned by moguls of Italian or Spanish descent, the image presented of Afro-Latinos are whitewashed. Mixed-race and multiracial individuals who present as black are being favored instead of the original Afro-Latinos.

The media rather focus on the concept of Afro-Latinidad and thus inclusion, as the Latin colonial world hates the idea of black and native groups gatekeeping. They have to support the idea of emancipation through the principles of racial admixture so as to let the white leaders at the center of everything. This idea of equality would thus block any real discussion regarding anti-blackness and hatred towards the black body.

The Afro-Latinidad movement was initially created for black people in the Latin world who look like the woman above. She is a Garifuna from Honduras. She possesses all the features rejected by both the white media and a great part of Black Mestizos who are looking for a proximity to whiteness. Often, these unambiguous black groups created the main musical genres of the Caribbean and South America and they are not believed to be South Americans and Caribbeans, for looking too African. The Afro-Latin movement excludes them, again/The world.org
Garifuna woman,/Grassrootswork.com

In an interview given to CNN, Honduran Garifuna Lidya Gity who experienced racism at the hands of other Latinos revealed that she consideres the term Afro-Latino to erase blackness. The article reads as follow: “Unlike Alvarado, who was also teased as a child for his racial ambiguity but ultimately came to embrace his full Afro-Latino identity, Guity said she’s exhausted of having to explain to people why she can speak Spanish fluently. For her, saying she’s Afro-Latina erases her Blackness.” It is the dark skin Negroid phenotype which is deeply hated and threatened with erasure, not the faces of the black mestizos and multiracials who promote the idea of racial admixture. Other Tainos with African admixture such as Princess Nokia, also spoke about this problematic indirectly as they ought to insist upon the Taino part of their essence being at the center and not the whiteness.

This reality highlights one particular issue which needs to be considered: there is a clear difference between the concept of Afro-Latinidad, thus Afro-Latinos and Black Latinos. Indeed, not all Afro-Latinos are Black Latinos, for the concepts are not always equal.

The Afro-Latin movement was created for Black Latinos (hence individuals who carried little to no admixture) in order to give them a visibility, but in the concept of globalism, the ideology of Afro-Latinidad was reinforced so as to place non-black people and Black mestizos at the center of it. The idea of Afro-Latinidad always lets a door open to an otherness, and also to whiteness since it implies that one individual carries an African heritage either totally, or partially. Consequently, any white Cuban with a black Latin ancestor can also claim Afro-Latinidad. Yet, Black Latinidad does not let this same openness, for the unambiguous blackness is put at the center of it all. Therefore, Veronica Vega and Amara La Negra are both Afro-Latinas, but they are not black, for being multiracial with either a majority of white or black.

When Multiracial Presents As Black: The Ultimate Confusion

Cardi B is not a black Mestiza, but a multiracial woman whose African genotypes came out more, thus presenting as black when she is not/Jon Kapaloff, Getty Images

The new faces of Afro-Latinidad are now well known in the US industry. Gina Torres, Rosalia Dawson, Christina Millian, Laz Alonso, Joseline Hernandez, Lala Vasquez, Julissa Bermudez, Aida Rodriguez or recently Cardi B have one thing in common. They are not black, but either black mestizos (Laz Alonso, Joseline Hernandez, Christina Millian, Gina Torres) multiracials who possess some African ancestry (Rosalia Dawson, Julissa Bermudez, Aida Rodriguez, The ibeyi sisters, Veronica Vega) or multiracials who present as black (Cardi B, Lala Vasquez) when they are not.

Christina Millian, is a black Mestiza. She is not Black Latina/The Guardian

All these individuals mentioned are a part of the Afro-Latin group, for all of them possess a certain degree of African blood but they are not black. Even if the darkest black mestizo claims Africanness as being the majority of their blood, they are still mixed race and are not the original pure and almost unmixed Black Latinos who were the creators of Afro-Caribbean and South American cultures.

It is rather hard for the black Americans to understand that the Caribbean can not be divided in black and white only, especially in the Hispanic world. If the black and white categories still exist, millions of individuals can not be classified at all between the two groups for being multiracial. Yet, even if the same family can produce thousands of different phenotypes going from the darkest tone to the whitest, if the national identities of these Caribbeans were to disappear, problems of identity would come out since millions of people can not, through racial admixture related to slavery and colonialism define themselves properly.

Joann Smalls by Alberto Pizzoli, is considered a black Boricua. She is actually a black Mestiza and her phenotype is much more approved in the media since her white and non-black heritage shows through her phenotypes. She is not a pure Black Latina, but a black mestiza who is used to further the whitewashing and colonial movement of Latinidad

At the beginning of her career, Cardi B never referred to herself as black at all. In a 2016 video, the rapper filmed herself showing her African moves. She posted the video for the African audience with respect towards them, but she did not seem to incorporate them into the way she identified as, especially as a Dominican and Trinidadian where African culture remains strong. She did not say “we”, but rather introduced the video as a present from her to the African audience she did not feel she was related to. As any multiracial woman who would be rejected by the white side for not being “pure” enough in race, Cardi B found success among the black American colorist men who gave her a platform. Judging by her Negroid phenotypes and kinky hair, the viewers were shocked to see that her parents were not black at all. Indeed, Cardi B looks like a biracial woman, or presents as a woman with at least, one direct black parent. The same confusion was applied to Fat Joe and reality TV star Evelyn Lozada.

Evelyn Lozada is a multiracial woman who presents as black when she is not. She is mostly Native with African ancestry/ Tommasso Boddi for WireImage

If Big Pun recognised his Spanish, Taino and African blood with pride, (he was mostly Afro-Taino) Fat Joe often claimed to be black to justify his presence in black musical structures. His African ancestry was also used to explain his use of the n-word. Just like Cardi B, regarding their phenotypes, both of them possess Negroid African features which could indicate a direct black parentage. (features which were not visible in Big Pun). Evelyn Lozada, who calls herself Afro-Latina proved to be only twenty-five per cent African, while her phenotype supposes that she, too, could have a direct black parent. In reality, Lozada is Native Taina with an important African heritage, too, especially when the Taino Arawaks who originally came from Colombian and Venezuela are dark skin and brown.

In order to understand this confusion, and why Cardi B and Evelyn Lozada never referred to themselves as black, one has to take the principle of multiracial identity being real in the Latin Caribbean. There, the members who belong to this heritage rather identify as their nationality for they never evolved in a black African or African heritage at all. Evelyn Lozada always perceived herself as Puerto-Rican, which she surely identifies as a mixture of blackness, whiteness and Native Indigenous, but she never saw herself as black, considered herself as such until she was called a racist by a Nigerian castmate with Negroid features. Phenotypes similar to hers or Cardi’s are common in the islands where they have roots.

Fat Joe and his parents. Though he stated that his father was black, this is clearly not the case. Fat Joe looks much more Negroid than his parents who are surely, multiracial like him, though he presents as black/IG Fat Joe

In an essay posted in 2019, Angel L Velez recalls how he did not see himself as black before he arrived in the United States. He wrote:

“Interestingly, coming from Puerto Rico, I still did not see myself as Black. I had lived 16 years with the idea that I was just Puerto Rican. Soon enough, I begin to hear my Black friends say to me things like, “You look like one of us” or “Bro, you are Black.” I did not fully understand what they meant. Obviously, they knew I did not speak English well and that I was from Puerto Rico. But they also knew something I did not know, which I later learned: Everyone is given a race in the U.S. An English teacher, Ms. Bermudez, also knew this about U.S. society. She probably knew more about my Blackness than I did.”

In the Caribbean and South American spaces, where white colonizers found the creation of new racial categories amusing, a clear distinction is made between a black and mixed-race person. Mixed individuals are rather called “Indios”, depending on their race, while “negro” refers to the unambiguous black group.

Angie Martinez is Puerto-Rican, Dominican and Cuban. Her mother’s family are mostly European and Native, while she stated that her father’s mother was as black as Celia Cruz. She is multiracial, with African ancestry but is not black for mostly Native and European. By the standards of Afro-Latinidad, she could also claim to be a part of this group when she is not black/Getty Images
Lovely Kat DeLuna

If Fat Joe, Evelyn Lozada and Cardi B’s identities were confusing to the black Americans, it is simply because these celebrities are multiracials whose phenotype can present as black, meaning that their African genes came out more than the others, but yet, they are still multiracial for belonging in a group where no one can classify them. Cardi B’s father is surely a tri-racial man who favors Taino Indigenous and European, while her mother is also multiracial with Afro-Trinidadian, Spanish and probably Indian. The hair of Cardi B is not a proof of her being a black Latina, this is a simple indication that her African heritage came out more.

In the same discourse, Lala Vasquez and Kat DeLuna who always claimed pride in being Afro-Latina, throughout the 2000s and early 2010s are both multiracial women. Still, one presents as unclassifiable for being multiracial (Kat DeLuna) and the other presents as black, while having multiracial parents who do not even display black features at all. Kat DeLuna who claims Asian, African and white always represented her African heritage with pride, while not being black. Therefore, the same way black American women want to exploit the One Drop Rule to force blackness into a concept of whiteness, many US Blacks fail to understand that the members of the multiracial group do not always look like Adriana Lima, as many of them can look black, while not being at all.

Whiteness and Africanness: The Issue Related to Lineages

Nathan Lugo, the white man standing at the center is of Puerto Rican descent. Also multiracial, he presents as white but has been greatly involved in the preservation of Ifa in the Caribbean and South American spaces. He is against syncretism he considers to be whitewashing and expresses his pride in African spirituality, though he is not a black man/Archives Nathan Lugo

The classification of races applied to Afro-Latinos is problematic as it surpasses the relation one has to whiteness in the Latin Caribbean world as well. For the most part, if whiteness can be pure in the Caribbean space (see Luis Abenader president of the Dominican Republic or Oscar de La Renta), it is often fabricated and mixed-race in origin. The majority of white Cubans are already genetically quadroons and octoroons who intermarried other mixed-race white people.

In this dynamic, a white Cuban and a white Puerto-Rican who is not visibly black at all, can carry a percentage of African blood being as high as fourty per cent, while not visible, especially if their ancestors intermarried between white quadroons and octoroons.

White Cubans celebrating santeria/getty Images
White Cuban men celebrating santeria/Unknown

Consequently, multiracial Whites such as Malu Trevejo or Veronica Vega who can be attached to African spirituality, practice it and contribute to the preservation of the African heritage they also belong to by blood AND culture (not only culture) are taken away from the problematic of Afro-Latinidad when their fabricated whiteness took place in the context of slavery, racial separation and colonialism. Indeed, recent photos taken in the 19th century showed faces of white American children classified as black for mixed-race, who grew up in a black American culture supposedly.

Despite the violence of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian colonialism in the Caribbean and South America, the concept of lineages carried on. On the Black Latin side, a great majority of Afro descendants know of their African lineage, whether Igbo, Kongo, Yoruba, or Fon. This knowledge was kept in their family especially when it came to African spirituality, but it was also preserved due to the slave masters who had to write down the origins of the slaves so as to keep their papers and administrations in order.

US Black Americans on the contrary lost this specificity due to their colonizers. Therefore, the color of blackness became the only identity left for them to build a new culture they had to develop together.

The concept of Afro-Latinidad is thus much more accepted as it allows millions of multiracial individuals with partial African ancestry to find a space of acceptance. Whether mostly Native with some African ancestry, mostly African with some European, Asian or Native ancestry, or white with some African ancestry, it is open to anyone deemed multiracial. However, Afro-Latinidad totally differs from the idea of Black Latinidad which gatekeeps right away.

If Afro-Latinos have the right to claim their African heritage, the danger surrounds them as globalist institutions which truly hate pure blackness from the core, would use multiracials who present as black and black mestizos as the faces of a movement first created for the isolated unambiguous descendants of black Africans scattered throughout South America and the Caribbean

By Victoria “VKY” Kabeya. All Rights Reserved, 2023.

[1] Florido, Adrian “Puerto Rico, Island Of Racial Harmony?” NPR, April 24, 2020 https://www.npr.org/2020/04/23/842832544/puerto-rico-island-of-racial-harmony

[2] Llorens, Hilda “‘Racialization works differently here in Puerto Rico, do not bring your U.S.-centric ideas about race here!’” Black Perspectives, March 3, 2020 https://www.aaihs.org/racialization-works-differently-here-in-puerto-rico-do-not-bring-your-u-s-centric-ideas-about-race-here/

[3] Robert A. Martinez; Puerto Ricans: White or Non-White?. Explorations in Ethnic Studies 1 July 1986; 9 (2): 37–48. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ees.1986.9.2.37

[4] Asiegbu, Grace “Blackness in Puerto Rico” Medill Reports Chicago, April 3, 2020 https://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/blackness-in-puerto-rico/

[5] Black Voices Team, “Loíza: The Heart of Puerto Rico’s Black Culture”, Black Voices, April 1st, 2018 https://blackvoicenews.com/2018/04/01/loiza-the-heart-of-puerto-ricos-black-culture/

[6] Alford, Natasha S, “‘They believe we’re criminals’: black Puerto Ricans say they’re a police target”, The Guardian, October 9th, 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/09/they-believe-were-criminals-black-puerto-ricans-say-theyre-a-police-target

[7] Velez, Angel L, “Complicating Latinidad: Learning to be Black in an Anti-Black World” OCCRL, July 9th, 2020, https://occrl.illinois.edu/our-products/voices-and-viewpoints-detail/truth-thursdays/2020/07/09/complicating-latinidad-learning-to-be-black-in-an-anti-black-world

[8] Pineda Alexander and Vera Amir, “Blackness and Latinidad are not mutually exclusive. Here’s what it means to be Afro-Latino in America”, CNN, September 26, 2021 https://edition.cnn.com/2021/09/26/us/black-latinos-afro-latinos-experience/index.html

[9] Reichard, Raquel “‘Blackness Exists Across the World’: Producer Natasha Alford Talks Must-See Documentary”, REMEZCLA, February 23, 2021 https://remezcla.com/features/culture/interview-afro-latinx-revolution-puerto-rico-documentary-natasha-alford/

[10] Garcia Medina, William “Cuando las vidas negras no importan: How Puerto Ricans Can Change Conversations on Race and Racism”, Latino Rebels, June 17, 2020 https://www.latinorebels.com/2020/06/17/howpuertoricanscanchangeconversationsonraceandracism/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: