An Occasion to Learn More About the Black-Latino Connection
EDITOR’S NOTE: Born out of an online discussion that was sparked by the George Floyd protests, Nubia-Feliciano’s monthly column will offer inspiration, tools and conversation starters to assist parents in raising a compassionate next generation.
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated annually in the United States from September 15 to October 15. It gives us time as a nation to stop and acknowledge the cultures and contributions of Americans that come from across the Hemisphere and Spain. It was first established as a month-long event in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan.
What few people actually realize is that within the Hispanic heritage is a cultural and racial thread connecting it to the African community. Afro-Latinos (Latinos of African descent) comprise about 24% of the Latino population in the United States. Within the Latino community, we often don’t distinguish racial differences as we tend to have an identity informed by a nation and culture. It was only in 2015 that Mexico provided a racial category on their census. It is no wonder that so few people know that being Hispanic or Latino may also mean being Black.
Black-Latino Community Fun Facts
- Did you know that the mayor of Los Angeles from 1793-1795 was Francisco Reyes, a Black and Hispanic man?
- Did you know that Santa Ana has one of the largest Black Mexican communities outside of the Mexican state of Guerrero? The Black Mexican communities are primarily located in La Costa Chica (western coast of Mexico) and the Yucatan Peninsula (eastern coast of Mexico). One musical style influenced by the Black Mexican community is Son Jarocho.
- Did you know that the California Superintendent of Education, Tony Thurmond, is Afro-Latino? His mother is Colombian, and he was raised part of his life in Panama.
How does this connect to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and other movements for racial equality and social justice? Knowing and understanding theses movements requires that Black lives matter in all places and communities where we exist. The Latino community is a place where Black lives must also matter. Although Latino is not a race, many of us who are part of the Latino community do have a race-informed experience. We blend into the African American community, so we often experience racial profiling and discrimination at similar rates as they do.
Knowing that there are people like me (I’m Puerto Rican born in Vieques and raised in Culebra and Southern California), who don’t fit neatly into any one category, gives us all an opportunity to understand how stereotypes and expectations impact the lives of people in the Latino community. We begin to see people through the lives that they lead, not the ones we think they should have. Being comfortable with this reality allows us to see and appreciate the contributions Black people make to the Latino community. Black Latinos have contributed to the development of the political and cultural life of southern California.
Black Latinos face scrutiny about our membership in the Black community and the Latino community. Because of how society has organized itself, we cannot live a full life that reflects all of who we are. Society determines what aspect of who we are is valid at any given moment. Although not a Black Latina, Ms. Kamala Harris, our state senator, is someone who is definitely from the Black diaspora. Her father is from Jamaica and her mother is from India. Ms. Harris was born in Northern California. Like Black Latinos, she also doesn’t fit neatly into any one category. Her nomination for Vice President on the Democratic ticket has brought with it scrutiny over her Blackness. As a person of mixed ancestry, can she truly claim the Black identity? The racial reality of the United States does not accommodate nuance. Ms. Harris, much like Black Latinos, can only check off the Black box on a form. Early on she adopted that identity as her own and took deliberate steps to inform this identity. Going to Howard University was one way she learned what being Black in the USA meant. Ms. Harris is our first Black vice-presidential candidate. That is a big deal and we should all celebrate this as a major societal accomplishment. It speaks directly to the aspirational words of the #BlackLivesMatter movement that Black lives must matter in order for all lives to matter.
It is important to understand that Black is a term that refers to the diaspora (or dispersed collection) of people of African descent. Therefore, anyone with African ancestry can be referred to as Black. We as parents can deepen our understanding of what Hispanic or Latino means by learning more about the lives of Latinos who exist in the Black diaspora. This will help us help our children appreciate the beauty and complexity of the cultures that we celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month.
• Book: Discovering early California Afro-Latino Presence, by Damany Fisher—Dr. Fisher helps us better see and understand the rich and complex history of California and Afro-Mexicans contributed to the building of Los Angeles.
• Online: the Cisneros Family of Santa Ana—Gives you a first-hand look at how one family from Cuanjinicuilapa, in the state of Guerrero, Mexico who now lives in Santa Ana, CA, creates connections among the Black and Mexican communities of the city. https://ibw21.org/commentary/secret-lives-afro-mexicans-america/
• Movie: The Get-Down—Netfix Original Series (TV-MA)—A six-part series showcasing the lives of Afro-Latinos in New York City during 1977. We learn how culture and music are used by Afro-Latinos to bring meaning to their lives and create bridges across cultures. https://www.netflix.com/title/80025601
[K: add Marie’s pic, pick up from the last issue]Marie Nubia-Feliciano holds a Ph.D. in Education, and a master’s degree in Counseling. She teaches part time for Chapman University and UC Irvine. She resides in Southern California with her family and is founder/CEO of the Colégas Group. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Marie Nubia-Feliciano, Ph.D.