As seen on Michael Baisden Live
***This story will be featured in our first official issue coming out this summer***
The struggle of self-identity for Afro-Latinas
If you’re living in the United States and don’t believe racism still exists, sorry to say it, you’re living under a rock. We’re taught about it in our history books and documentaries; about how the Europeans (aka colonizers if you saw ‘Black Panther’) came over to Africa to steal our ancestors and ship them as cargo to work the cotton and tobacco fields in the Americas. But the slave ships didn’t just stop in North America. They also made pit stops in South America and the Caribbean as well, hence where we find our cousins (yes our cousins), Afro-Latinos.
Although the term is less than 30 years-old, the people it describes could be traced back to colonial days. Afro-Latinos are people of Latin descent who share an African ancestry. The term was recently given new light on VH1’s reality series, Love & Hip-Hop Miami. In the first episode of season 8, we were introduced to breakout, Latin crossover star, Amara La Negra. During her meeting with fellow cast mate and producer, Young Hollywood, she is criticized for her auburn-colored afro (which we thought was the crown of a melanin goddess and looked GORG). The producer suggested she needed to look a “little more Beyonce and less Macy Gray”, if they were to work together. And if that wasn’t insulting enough, during an interview with the BreakFast Club, co-host Charlemagne, accuses the Dominican Republican native of the prejudice being all in her head.
The confrontation brought up another issue; colorism, the common misconception that every Latina woman looks like a JLO, Selena, Selma Hayek or Sofia Vergara. Yet travel to countries such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba and even Mexico (who only started allowing people to identify as Afro-Mexican in 2015), you’ll find all kinds of beautiful brown shades.
But with the lack of representation and acknowledgment, many Afro-Latinas (and Latinos) are left fighting to prove their place within these respective cultures.
“For me personally, I’m Puerto Rican and black,” says 37 year-old Angel Richards, an entrepreneur and author from Tampa, Fla. “I don’t say I’m just Puerto Rican, I don’t say I’m just black.”
And she is not alone. According to a 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center, at least 25% of all Latinos who live in the U.S. self-identify as Afro-Latino. Most of these individuals live in the south or along the east coast.
Twenty-seven year old Kayla Boronell, is another Tampa Fla., native who also self-identifies as Afro-Latina.
“Culturally I’m West Indian and Afro-Cuban,” she says. “I also identify as a black woman in America which carries its own distinct set of experiences.
Boronell’s Cuban roots come from her grandfather on her mother’s side, who she says always made her feel proud about her heritage.
“I grew up culturally well rounded,” says Boronell, “and have always had an appreciation for myself, my culture and others.”
Unlike Boronell, Richards says growing up she was the only person on her mom’s side that was mixed with black. All of her other siblings had different fathers who were Hispanic. The difference made her feel like an outcast among her family.
“I never felt like I fit, like I belonged,” she says. “When I was smaller, it was cute to be the little black girl, but as I started to get older I would get into arguments with family members and they would call me things like black bitch or nappy head.”
Richards says one minute her family could be complimenting her beautiful, black soft hair and praising its thickness and how it holds a curl and the next moment make a negative comment about it. The criticism was even worse among her friends, who would try to force her to choose who she spent her time with.
“When I was in school, it was either I’m going to hang with the Spanish girls or I’m going to hang with the black girls,” Richards says. “I didn’t pick or choose who I wanted to hang out with, but sadly the black girls had a problem with me hanging with the Spanish girls.”
“When I was smaller, it was cute to be the little black girl, but as I started to get older I would get into arguments with family members and they would call me things like black bitch or nappy head.”
Ironically, Richards’ Spanish friends never had a problem. Nevertheless those experiences with her family and close friends left her feeling insecure.
Although she was never bullied growing up, Boronell recalls one incident in middle school that forever became a teaching moment. For a class project, the kids were asked to dress in cultural attire and bring a food dish that represented their family’s heritage. Kayla chooses to bring her aunt’s famous handmade guava Jelly to share and dress as a guajira (a Cuban country girl).
“They (her classmates) thought I was representing Jamaica because they weren’t aware you could be both black and brown and Latino,” she said. “That was my first time realizing that others perceived me as ‘too’ black to possibly be Latino.”
Out of the 25% of Latinos who live in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, only 18% identified as black. One possible reason for the small distinction is how Hispanics identify themselves.
“If you’re dark and Hispanic, I don’t feel you have to say you’re black if that’s not how you identify yourself,” Richards says. “And it’s not because you are ashamed of being black, but you weren’t raised culturally black.”
“They thought I was representing Jamaica because they weren’t aware you could be both black and brown and Latino. That was my first time realizing that others perceived me as ‘too’ black to possibly be Latino.”
Also we must understand that colorism isn’t just a “black thing.” Even light-skinned Hispanics are known to face discrimination for their body shape and hair type.
Nevertheless, Richards believes biracial people should not feel like they have to pick what they are.
“People look at me and say ‘well you look black’ so that’s their perception of who I am,” Richards says, “but be yourself and whatever you identify with, be comfortable with that.”
Thankfully, social media are giving Afro-Latinas, like Richards and Boronell a voice and allowing them to speak out about their mixed heritage. The hashtag #afrolatina on Instagram has almost 235,000 posts and beautiful, melanin Latina women such as Amara La Negra, Juju, Zoe Saldana, Christina Milian, La La Anthony and countless others will no doubt keep the trend viral. And for those Afro-Latinas who are still struggling to find themselves, stop struggling.
“You are important,” says Boronell. “You are the result of two beautiful cultures. If you have curly hair or straight, if you are the color of cafe or take on a lighter tone, be proud and walk in the light of who you are. There’s no box to be put into.”
A working journalist, entrepreneur and founder of RoyalTee Enterprises. Born and raised in Tampa, Fla. The vision of RoyalTee was inspired in 2015 by Alexia’s ambitions to return to her passion for creative writing and publishing and create a platform to showcase the excellence of minority women across the country through professional, personal and social ventures.