Thursday, April 29, 2010

“Don’t Dare Call Me AfroLatino!”

There is a great conversation happening right now in a facebook note titled, “Afro-Latino what does it mean? Is it a real Definition of a Dominican?”

An excerpt from the author of the conversation he writes:

“This is not about the economics of slavery, and the slow progress of development it as inflicted on the under-developed world, but about the reaction I got from my professor when I told her proudly that I am an Afro-Latino. My professor being a native of Puerto Rico, looked at me and said, "Don’t you dare call me Afro-Latino!" Surprised by how adamant she was I asked why? She said, “Latino is only used in the United States to inquire information in a Census form.”-“When you find a Latino in Buenos Aires let me know.” She continued by saying: “**Juan study your history por favor””
**For purposes of the this blog I have protected the identity of the student.

Is AfroLatino a real definition?

The term AfroLatinos as it is being used identifies a group of people (the 200 million descendants of enslaved Africans that exist today in South and Central America and the Caribbean). Using the term AFROLATINO is a way to honor the African contributions historically and the present day contributions so that they are included in the dialogue in ways they have not been included in the past.

Names of Leaders working on the Afrolatinos subject:
Dr. Georgina Falu, Puerto Rico/NYC

Dagoberto Tejada, Republica Dominicana
Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, Puerto Rico/NYC
Miriam Jimenez, Puerto Rico/NYC
Yvette Modestin, Panama/Boston
Juan Flores, Puerto Rico/NYC
Carlos Andujar, Republica Dominicana
Juan De Dios Mosquera, Colombia
Maribel Arrelucea Barrantes, Peru
Father Glynn Jermott – Costa Chica, Mexico
Organizations like CODAE (Corporacion de Desarrollo Afroecuatoriano), Ecuador
Yasmin Hernandez, Visual Artist, Puerto Rico/NYC
Alicia Anabel Santos and Renzo Devia, AfroLatinos: La Historia que Nunca Nos Contaron, New York/Bogota

Are just a few of the many people and organizations dedicated to raising awareness about AfroLatinos throughout the Americas. These are people who are devoted to seeing that AFROLATINO communities are no longer invisible.

Do I want to claim this definition?

YES – I do claim the AfroLatino definition! The definition as I understand it and as defined by the experts immersed and dedicated to this movement (mentioned above) is the study of the African influence in Latino/Hispanic countries and the contributions of black people throughout Spanish speaking nations. I absolutely claim it and wear it with an incredible amount of pride that no one can take from me. What I do by claiming AfroLatino roots is an understanding that while I accept that my country was raped and pillaged by Spanish conquistadors - - I am proud that I speak Spanish, that I am proud of my Taino roots albeit a very small percentage and I am proud of the African influence. I am proud that part of the strength that runs through my veins comes from the enslaved African who built our countries and that those slaves managed to hold on to their culture and faith in the face of a horrific history (400+ years strong) and still managed to hold onto their roots and that is a part of my story that I will never allow for someone to take from me.

Do you really want to claim a definition that is really not part of your history?

First of all, this is what we need to change. This is the place we need to start from. This is where we need a re-education. To ask the question of why we would accept a term that was never taught to us is to accept ignorance… it is the continual denial of a part of our history—a history that DID exist—a history that did happen—a history that did impact and change ALL of the Americas. For me to not claim this definition would be to pretend slavery never happened - - “so why bother talking about it?” Not including the arrival of blacks to our lands would be wrong and irresponsible of me as an educator, as a mother, and as a Dominican I have a responsibility to know my history and pass that on and working on the AfroLatinos project has provided me with access to our history in ways I would never have learned if I didn’t visit these communities.

The student went on to write that the discussion was not being about the slow progress of development… I don’t think we can have this conversation without it… we cannot ignore that it really is about the “slow progress of development” this is precisely what is at the root of this discussion—it is the foundation of this “AfroLatino Movement.” Latinos have yet to take a stand on something! Where is our civil rights movement? Where is our feminist movement (yes there have been some) but what substantial changes are we noticing? I believe that while some may find it difficult to change the world.

I want to know–what it is that we do stand for? The communities who live in the worse conditions all over Latin America are predominantly black and indigenous populations. These black communities are completely ignored and many are undeveloped to this day. In most of Latin American you will find these communities are pushed so far out into the country so that their own governments don’t have to deal with them. Afrolatinos are the most marginalized communities throughout Latin America.

Addressing the statement…"To classify the unclassified" is incredibly powerful as its a label that gives voice to a group of people (black) people that for the most part have not been included in the discourse and have no place at the table in Spanish speaking countries when it comes to the dispersal of funds, medical assistance and human rights--and this is found throughout ALL of Latin America.

The label Afrolatino is a positive one not intended to separate the blacks from the whites throughout Latin America. This movement is about providing a platform that acknowledges their existence.

Another student wrote: Debieramos "meter-mano" calling for to begin a national dialogue about this initiative and this cause. We need to have more talks and discussions BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY have "action" days!"

Another conversation comment was about "“Afro-Latino” that means being a member of an unspecified ethnicity or nationality BUT with partial African ancestry." I disagree the term Afro-Latino is very specific and intentional as the history that defines this label has a very clear message—they exist and this part of the story must be told.

"Dominican" is already inclusive of the African aspects of the culture.” was a comment left... my response is that it isn’t inclusive. He is one of a small percentage of Dominicans that believe this. Yet show me the curriculum that addresses the influence of Africans in the Latin America or here in the U.S. Provide me with the dates where we celebrate the contributions of blacks in DR. In DR we celebrate our independence from Haiti not our conquerors. It’s not inclusive... Let's visit the bateys. Let's analyze which communities receive funding and which communities still look like we are living in the 1500's in present day DR... Con todo el respeto que te merece--Its not inclusive.

A young woman writes: "Human Emancipation if we are constantly dividing and labeling ourselves." This is lovely sentiment. But until that happens I will continue to write about Afrolatinos because if I don't who will? When I look at Dominican, Peruvian, Colombian history it is almost always exclusive—this ONE version of a story and calling ourselves by the country we are from is not fully representative ALL the kinds of people living there.

Then we have a student saying, "I see Latinidad less as how I perceive myself and more as a conscious political choice to form part of an experience--a way of being and a history."

I want to address the professors statement “Don’t Dare Call Me AfroLatino” what right do I have to take away from a student their moment of pride… of claiming for himself/herself they they are an AfroLatino as if the term was something so terrible and insulting. what is so wrong with calling yourself Afrolatino? She disempowered him with her belief (it’s not about convincing her, our parents, the world.. or trying to prove what you are and why you take on a particular label. That is a personal choice and a personal journey… and no one has the right to tell us who we are.

I will agree with the professor… when you find a Latino in Buenos Aires they aren’t Latin they are Argentinian just like I am Dominican but in THIS world we are not on OUR homeland we are in a shared space - -where all of us Spanish speaking Hispanics, Latinos, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, minorities, people of color are in ONE box - - the Latino box and that box does not offend me. That would be like me saying don’t put Africans, U.S. born blacks, and West Indians in the African American box. What’s wrong with sharing the space? Especially in this country - - where we are not in the Dominican republic, Panama, Guatemala, Colombia or Peru yet we are connected through language, music, culture and history.

It is incredibly important to study our history and know where you are from. Calling yourself an Afro Dominican or an AfroLatino are all personal choices and we are each entitled to identify with whatever label suits us. Whatever label makes us feel comfortable and to wear it proudly. And no one has the right to take that away from you. For far too long labels have been put on us to keep us in a group or out of groups… when you find a label that is empowering like AfroLatinos why not where it? Whether your professor likes it or not, agrees or disagrees – Latino is the label that has been assigned to us. It is a label that we have been carrying and if she chooses not to use it… its her choice. But me personally, I am going to use Afrolatino, AfroDominican, Quisqueyana, Black Latina, Dominicana - - all of it… because I am proud of what those labels mean to me.

Does it matter that the U.S. created this label? Latino…

They also created “Nigger," "Colored people," "Black," and "Negro,” all names imposed on us… Afrolatino to me as I understand is not a term created by the U.S. Afrolatinos was created and is used by Latinos who are doing the work to identify, highlight and honor this community of people giving them their rightful place in history. Because as we know the African root and contribution has been negated, excluded in our Spanish History for far too long. A part of our story that has intentionally been left out of the history books not taught in curriculum, is not found in schools here in the U.S. as well as Latin America. For example, if you were to ask ten Latino children here in the U.S. to name 5 AfroLatinos or 5 famous Latinos in history I would be curious to know how they would respond.

Identifying with Afrolatino will be incredibly important in Latin America where the many shades of our skin vary so much where it is known that to be lighter is to be accepted yet the darker skinned children are left to feel like outcasts. Showing children a new reflection another definition that helps to explain the legacy of why their skin tone is darker, their features and who the role models are who represent them is empowering. Children will now have a complete history to identify with. No longer will they have to explain where they get their features from or burn their hair to fit in… accepting their blackness will support them in celebrating who they are.

I am thrilled that you guys are continuing the discussion. I hope more conversations like these happen y mas que eso that action follows.

Sending blessings~ ASHE ~