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OP-ED Just Like Blackness and Latinidad, AfroLatinidad Is Not A Monolith

May 5, 2022

Since the early 2000s, the Afro-Latinx community has taken great strides to assert its presence within the American melting pot. The push came after years of many feeling forced to choose between their Blackness and their Latinidad; when they knew that both their cultural heritage and their experiences as people of African descent had informed who they were. But even after nearly 20 years of discussions about Afro-Latinidad and conversations surrounding racism, colorism, and cultural appropriation, the concept still seems to lack nuance. At least in conversations geared towards those outside of this community.

By definition, the term “Afro-Latinx” applies to a person of African descent hailing from one of several countries in Latin America with a significant Black population. Citing multiple sources, Wikipedia places that number somewhere around 38.5 million people spread between 19 Central and South American countries; the majority of which are Brazilian. This count includes countries you may never have heard speak of in this context – including Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina. It also includes countries where the prevalence and importance of African influence have become a central part of the conversation surrounding these places’ cultural identity. Countries like Colombia, Panama, and Cuba, where the influence can be seen everywhere from religion to food to music.

But – and we know it’s a fluid source – according to Wikipedia, the 38.5 million Afro-Latinos of the world also include roughly 80% of Haiti’s entire population… But none of the other predominantly Black countries in the Caribbean and West Indies share variations of the same European, African, and Indigenous ancestral mix.

“The accuracy of statistics reporting on Afro–Latin Americans has been questioned,” the same Wiki article cautions, “especially where they are derived from census reports in which the subjects choose their own designation because in various countries the concept of African ancestry is viewed with differing attitudes.”

The flip side of what defines Afro-Latinidad beyond the two basic requirements are the individual cultural experiences of each country with a Black community. If you know anything about the Caribbean, Central American, and South American people you know that the pride in national identity is strong. And that pride – rooted in the individual cultural norms and traditions that have evolved in each country over the last six hundred years – also informs the individual experiences and cultures of Afro-Latinos across the globe.

Of course, the Afro-Latinx identity and experience have been influenced by systemic racism that has existed since the days of slavery. This means many have dealt with and fought against discrimination and colorism their entire lives. It also means that in countries like Cuba and Colombia, runaway slaves established communities that, to this day, incorporate African traditions, religions, and even language into their daily lives.

All this is to say that Afro-Latinidad is an identity rooted in fluidity and self-determination. Just as we created an intersection for the Black and Latin experience, it’s time we begin expanding the conversation to the unique cultural experiences that exist under this umbrella.