Thursday, February 11, 2010
Latinegr@s Project: Being Afro Latino
The various concepts of Latino can be debated as a racialized identity, a political identity, or a cultural identity. In thinking about Latinos as a body of people, there has to be a thought revolving countries of origin. Just the mention of the words Latino or Hispanic brings out a broad spectrum of cultures and lands that are with the Latin American Diaspora. . The term Hispanic is problematic for many reasons and although it is widely used throughout the Southwest, Latino is a word that can have an assigned gender like most words in the Spanish vocabulary.
Latino is also a racialized identity that presents a series of social issues that I will focus on. Many Latinos are fighting for the right to not be categorized as “non white” for fear that being considered less than that would forfeit their perceived privileged. Theses would be the groups of people that would be identified as “White Hispanics”. This is a struggle that many White Hispanics fight for to maintain their social status. These are also the Latinos that popular culture identifies with.
Latino is also a political identity that many sub origins identify with. Chicanos may be used more by those Mexican Americans who refuse to be racialized by the vast majority. They deal with many issues of assimilation and immigration. Militant Puerto Ricans choose to use their origin as a political identity when dealing with issues of colonization of Puerto Rico by the United States. Political organizations like the Young Lords popped up in New York City in the late 1960’s during same time as the Black Power movement.
Afro-Latinos can be identified as dark skinned Latinos. Often times they will be referred to as Black Latinos. In the various Latino cultures throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, they represent the bottom of the social ladder. They are normally the poor and uneducated. I call myself Latinegro because it is something I feel best represents what I am in relation to other Latinos.
The social status of Afro-Latinos really depends on the country. In the United States, they are simply seen as part of the black minority, even though their ethnicity is Hispanic. However, when focusing on countries such as Mexico and Cuba the social standings are a little different. Mexico treats their Afro-Latinos as if they do not exist. They are not considered to be citizens. Cuba, on the other hand is 90% black. When Castro took power, many of Cuba’s white elite fled to the United States.
When I was a kid, my identity was clear; I was Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian. I was raised as such by my parents. We would listen to Spanish music and eat Latino food. Everything we did revolved around something that had to do with Latino culture. Yet, the in the public realm, I was felt there was something a little different about me. My father looks like a typical light skinned Latino. He enters the Navy and a young age and is proud to be American. My mother is a Afro-Latina and I get my dark complexion from her. She, like my father, was born and raised in the Bronx. Much of what I think being Latino is revolves around my parents. I never had much of an issue when I went out in public with my mother. However, I always felt that I got looks when I was out with my father. In school functions, I felt I had to say to people that, “yes, this is indeed my father”; after all, there was no other kind in the entire school who had parents that were two different shades of color.
The idea of considering myself black never entered my mind. It was quite obvious to me that I was Latino. My mother’s side of the family, including my brother, is just as dark as I am. There are a just few cousins here and there that are light skinned. However, on my father’s side of my family, I was the darkest. Everyone is fair skinned. In most Latino families this could be a very big issue. However, I can honestly say that I was not treated differently from my family because of the color of my skin. This doesn’t mean there weren’t any prejudices. I can recall on several occasions, being told that I should not marry a black girl. It was never explained why. The unwillingness to accept African roots into Latino Culture is nothing new to Latinos. This type of false sense of “whiteness” has been indoctrinated in too many Latinos since birth.
As, I grew older my parents separated and later divorced. My father and I became very close. He would tell me many stories about how his mother (who represents the Ecuadorian side of the equation) asked him not to date my mother because she was too dark. I almost get the feeling he may have done it out of spite. There was a fear from my grandmother to not darken the family. After, lighter skinned Latinos have made their place in society. When she babysat me, she would obsessively watch Novelas (Spanish soap operas) on Univision. Since I never really knew Spanish, I would watch them with her and try counting how many Latinos looks like me. I never saw one. My father once mentioned to me that he was always welcomed in my mother’s house because my maternal grandmother was proud that her daughter took a step up in marrying him. I always found it ironic that I am just as dark as my grandmother.
I never paid attention to Latino relations in the community. When living in such a melting pot of New York City, I didn’t think about those types of relations. I was taught to be more aware of people who may not look like me, such as Italians or immigrants. It wasn’t until college that I began to really see how Latinos are indoctrinated into the white binary. Trying to complete an undergrad degree at Syracuse University is not an easy thing for a person who doesn’t fit in. Due, to my skin color I found myself not having the ability to be comfortable in any one group. White people automatically assumed I was African American. The idea of me being Latino was incomprehensible.
In certain classes I found myself speaking for the wrong ethnic group. I also realized that I could not find any comfort in being with Latinos because I was just way too dark for them. There were clicks that I did not fit into; I was always felt to be the odd ball. African Americans, was the closest group to accept me, however, I never truly fit with them either. My culture is vastly different and I could not relate too many of the black experiences I was being told about at the time. My identity felt fluid. I could fit in when I needed to. Dating seemed impossible. My father would always ask me about why I was always alone or not hanging out with more Latinos. I would try to explain it to him, but deep down I knew he didn’t understand. I was called a late bloomer.
However, I did notice a change. When I started dating a light skinned Colombian in my junior year, I felt differently in the Latino student community. It was almost as if I was welcomed into the fold because I was now truly a Latino with a good looking Latina. I remember asking her about the prejudice of dark Latinos in her family, since I didn’t see any all the times I have met them. I was told by her that she didn’t think it existed in her family or her country for that matter since there was so many blacks in Colombia. Which I think was just her opinion.
As I have grown older I have become to understand the fluid nature of my identity. In college, I never fully understood that being fluid meant being able to identify with more than one type of culture. Within my current work at Syracuse University’s Division of Student Affairs, I am able to understand and mentor both African American and Latino males while having mutual respect from both. I have also had time to think about my place in the Latino community due to my volunteer work. I have yet to find a place, in large part because I still feel that the Latino identity with the city of Syracuse is in question.
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