Afro-Latino Identities in the U.S. and Double Marginalization

March 9, 2020

Afro-Latinos in the United States experience double marginalization frequently due to stereotypes that are widespread regarding black and Latino communities. Often, Afro-Latinos are doubly marginalized by White, Black, and Latino communities. The Black community often distances themselves from Afro-Latinos due to cultural and linguistic differences that denaturalizes their black identity. In turn, the Latino community often denaturalizes the Latino identity of Afro-Latinos for being too black (Bucholtz, 2005). This stems from unhealthy generalizations about both the Black and Latino experience. The experiences of Black Latinos are multidimensional and multifaceted; however, because they make up a small minority in the United States, they are often automatically linked with either of two communities who also deny their validity in either group. Due to these unique experiences, Afro-Latinos in the United States have varied perceptions of their own identity that often differs greatly based on a person’s ethnic background, home-life, and the U.S. communities that they are a part of.

According to the U.S. Census data, approximately 25% of U.S. Latinos identify as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean, or Latino with african descent (Gonzalez-Barrera, 2016). This group has been historically ignored in the U.S., and 2014 was the first year that the U.S. census recorded any information regarding more faceted aspects of Latino identities. Census data is extremely important to gathering data on potentially marginalized communities, and is essential to better represent different communities in politics, health care, natural disaster response, aid, and numerous other aspects. By not considering Afro-Latinos in the census, it is difficult to know how different policies affect these communities, which has been a flaw in the U.S. census’ structure well into the past decade. Similarly, 2015 was the first year that Mexico allowed its citizens to identify as Black or Afro-Mexican in their own Census (Gonzalez-Barrera, 2016). With such a large portion of U.S. Latinos identifying as Afro-Latino, the United States needs a way to better represent them. The U.S. census has shaped the identities of many Afro-Latinos. Prior U.S. census data shows that only 18% of Afro-Latinos marked ‘Black’ as one of their races, while 39% identified as ‘White’ alone or ‘White’ as well as another race. An additional 24% identified their race as ‘Hispanic,’ and the remaining 9% identified as ‘Mixed Race’ (Gonzalez-Barrera, 2016). This is especially interesting because the U.S. Census considers ‘Hispanic’ an ethnic origin and not a race. While there is no justifiable reason that these Afro-Latino communities have not been officially identified by the United States in the past, it certainly is a complex perspective of identity that varies greatly based on many factors such as their cultural background.

The cultural background of Afro-Latinos plays a major role in determining their identity, specifically, the cultural ties gained from their parents’, grandparents’ or an even more distant relative’s. In Brazil, for example, almost half of the country identifies as having African descent. It may be the case that they are black or mixed-race with African descent. In the Caribbean, Black Cubans make up about one-third of the country’s population, and in the Dominican Republic, Afro-Latino identity is its own unique case (Gonzalez-Barrera, 2016). 

The Dominican Republic has a unique history of Spanish colonization, slavery, U.S. occupation, and Taíno populations present since long before Europeans arrived in the Western Hemisphere. During Spanish colonization, Spaniards used the word “Negr@” to refer to African slaves brought to the Dominican Republic by the Spanish. This word is more heavily associated with slavery and the racism and institutions involved. The word “Moren@” began to be used by the Spanish to refer to Africans in the Dominican Republic; however, it was almost exclusively used to describe non-enslaved individuals of African descent. The root of the word “Moreno” comes from “Los Moros” or “The Moors,” a group of Islamic Northern Africans who had colonized Spain on and off for hundreds of years. The word “Moren@” has much more culture associated with it than “Negr@,” which translates to the color black. Unlike most other Spanish colonies, the colony in what is the present-day Dominican Republic failed early on. For this reason, most Black Dominicans were born in the Dominican Republic and not Africa, creating a distance between Black Dominicans and their cultural ties to Africa. 

Another term that is essential when understanding Afro-Dominican identities is ‘Indo.’ In the rest of Latin America, “Indo” refers to anyone who is of indigenous Latin American descent. In the Dominican Republic on the other hand, people didn’t identify as different races but more literally different colors until U.S. occupation in 1910 when a U.S. sponsored dictator, Trujillo, attempted to spread the use of the word “Indio” to refer to someone with a skin color “not as light as white and not as dark as Moreno” (Lopez, 2016). The term did not apply to indigenous populations in the island, Los Taínos. There is a lot of overlap between being considered Indio and Moreno, and often depends on the person or group of people using the terms based on their skin color. According to Gerald Lopez, a Dominican and U.S. citizen, “in countries where Afro-descendants are a minority, such as Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, United States, Canada, Mexico, there tends to be unity amongst the different hue’s and features, while in places where Afro-descendants are a majority, people tend to see differences as humans naturally separate themselves into groups.” (Lopez, 2016). Just as Lopez describes, there is much more unity in Afro-Latino communities in the United States because of relatively small populations.

In Chicago, Blacks and Latinos consist of 30% of the city’s population. Two Afro-Latina sisters in Chicago with Puerto Rican ancestry, Raquel Dailey and Rebecca Wooley, have been marginalized by both Black and Latino communities. Identifying as Afro-Boricua, Boricua referring to the Taíno word for Puerto Rico, the sisters created a lifestyle blog, BoriquaChicks.com, to better represent their community. The sisters have faced backlash from the Latino community online being told that they should not post about their blackness on social media (Blancaflor, 2019). Similarly, another Chicago Afro-Latino, Dominican-born Edgar Bautista finds that the black community in Chicago is often confused by his ability to speak Spanish. Bautista is using his rap music as a way to carve a space in U.S. culture for Afro-Latino voices. Daily and Wooley add that while they hope to provide better representation for Afro-Latinos in the U.S., they are unable to speak on behalf of all Afro-Latinos due to how unique each individual’s own experiences and identities are (Blancaflor, 2019).

Home life is another aspect that helps shape the identities of Afro-Latinos in the U.S. The use of Spanish in the home or the celebration of different Latin American traditions can strengthen a person’s ties to their Latino roots while society perceives them as black due to their phenotype. Consider this dialogue between two Dominican-American students (JB and Wilson) and their Southeast Asian American classmate (Pam), at a Rhode Island High School in the linguistic study carried out by Bailey. 

(Wilson has just finished explaining to JB, in Spanish, the function of the wireless

microphone he is wearing.)

Wilson: ((singing)) Angie Pelham is a weird person (2.5)

Wilson: Me estoy miando yo,’mano. [‘I have to piss, man.’] (2.0)

JB: ( ) (2.0)

Pam: Yo, the first time I saw you, I never thought you were Spanish. (.5)

Wilson: [Who?]

JB: [(He’s)] Black.

Pam: I never

Wilson: Cause I’m Black.

JB: ( )

Wilson: Cause I’m Black.

Pam: No

JB: His father [is Black ], her mother is-, his mother is uh

Wilson: [I’m Black ]

Pam: (Can he) speak Spanish?

JB: No

Wilson: Cause I was- [I was ]

Pam: [Yeah!]

JB: So why (d- ?)

602 Discourse Studies 7(4–5)

Wilson: No, no seriously, I’m Black and I was raised in the Dominican Republic. (.5)

Wilson: For real.

Pam: Your mother’s Black?

Wilson: My mom? No, my father.

Pam: Your father’s Black, your [mother’s Spanish? ]

Wilson: [My mom’s Spanish]

JB: His mom is Black- and she’s Spanish.

Wilson: Is mix(ed)

JB: His mom was born over here.

(2.0) ((Wilson smiles at Pam and throws a piece of paper at her))

JB: Wilson, don’t t(h)row anything to her.

Wilson: Excúsame, se me olvidó, que es la heva tuya [‘Sorry, I forgot that she is your

girlfriend.’]

JB: Cállate, todavía no. [‘Be quiet, not yet!’]

Pam: English!

JB: English, yeah!

Wilson: I said I’m sorry.

JB: He can’t speak Spanish.

Pam: I saw you were talking to him ( )

Wilson: I understand, but I don’t speak everything.

(2.2) ((Wilson smiles broadly at Pam))

JB: I’m teaching him. (5.5)

Wilson: ¿Qué tú vas (a) hacer en tu casa hoy, loco? ((slaps JB on the back))

[‘What are you going to do at your house today, man?’]

(Bailey, 2000).

This seemingly harmless prank illustrates how multifaceted the identities of Afro-Latinos can be, and how large of a role language plays in that. To Wilson and JB, the idea of Wilson having an identity of being black and not Spanish speaking is amusing to them; however, their classmate does not understand why Wilson would speak Spanish due to his skin tone. At the end of the dialogue, Wilson clearly destroys the false identity he has created by speaking Spanish. 

While Afro-Latinos have diverse and complex identities that vary from person to person due to a variety of factors, their representation is lacking and causes them to be doubly marginalized by other communities in the United States. While including Afro-Latinos as a category on the U.S. Census (a trend that is growing in Latin America as well), researchers might have a better understanding of the complexities of Afro-Latinos and how to promote equality in all fields.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Mary Bucholtz, Kira Hall. (2005). "Identity and Interaction: a Sociocultural Linguistic Approach". Sage Publications. Discourse Studies. Retrieved Tuesday, February 25, 2020.
  2. Gustavo López, Ana Gonzalez-Barrera. (2016 Mar 1). "Afro-Latino: A deeply rooted identity among U.S. Hispanics". Pew Research Center. Retrieved Tuesday, February 25, 2020.
  3. Gerald Lopez. (2016). "Moreno, Negro, Indio: Explained". La Galería: Voices of the Dominican Diaspora. Retrieved Tuesday, February 25, 2020.
  4. Saleah Blancaflor. (2019 Feb 25). "In Chicago, Afro-Latinos carve a space to express their identity". NBC News. Retrieved Tuesday, February 25, 2020.
  5. Benjamin B. Bailey. (2000). "Language and Negotiation of Ethnic/Racial Identity among Dominican Americans". Language in Society. Retrieved Tuesday, February 25, 2020.

About Author(s)

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Rachel Bierly
Rachel Bierly is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Linguistics as well as pursuing minors in Spanish, Chinese and a certificate in Latin American Studies. Though her major is Linguistics, her focus lies in Latin American languages, culture, and politics. Rachel spent the summer of 2019 living and conducting research in Manizales, Colombia regarding the process of demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration for ex-guerrilla combatants. When Rachel is not working at Panoramas she enjoys traveling, learning new languages, and rock climbing. She hopes to one day use her experience to defend the rights of minority groups and underrepresented communities in the United States and Latin America.