Aug 29, 2014

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Afro-Latinas: Finding A Place To Belong

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Afro-Latinas

Ivy Farguheson

Editor’s Note:  We are republishing this article in celebration of Woman’s Month and our upcoming Twitter Party on AfroLatinas on 3/13, 9PM EST.  Click here: http://t.co/1IeasH8 to participate in the Twitter Party.

Identity - It’s something every human being wrestles with at some time in their life – some more than others. For Afro-Latinas, self identifying can be especially difficult. The sense of ignored, unrecognized and invisible, is prevalent among those who identify as Afro-Latinas. The fact that the word itself, Afro-Latino, does not yet appear in most dictionaries only lends credence to the voices calling for recognition.

Today we introduce you to three voices of Afro-Latinas.

Ivy Farguheson – A Social Services reporter for the Muncie Star Press, Muncie, Indiana.

Eusebia Aquino-Hughes – Nurse by profession. Blogs at Street Latino.

Vianessa Castaños – Professional actress. Website: Vianessa.com. Twitter: @Vianessa.

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Defining Afro-Latina

“To me, being Afro-Latina means that I am a part of the African diaspora in Latin America, more specifically, my parents were a part of the African diaspora in Costa Rica. This identity gives me the privilege of identifying with the Spanish aspects of Latino culture (such as the foods, the language, the immigrant experience in America) along with the African flavors that have made part of the Latino experience different than those who aren’t Afro-Latino(a) (the music, the dancing, the slave/worker history)…” – Ivy Farguheson “I self-identify as [a] proud Afro-Latina of Puerto Rican/African [descent]. It is an honor for me and many in my family to respect …our African roots…and [I] hope that our Latino community does the same…Our proud African roots have given contributions to our music, foods, arts, [and] language…” – Eusebia Aquino-Hughes “An Afro-Latina is just what the name implies, someone of Latin (or Hispanic) descent that has a predominantly African ancestry…I usually just describe myself as Dominican or Afro-Caribbean. I’ll occasionally identify with Afro-Latina, but never just ‘Latina’… I am 100% Dominican of West African, French, Spanish and Chinese decent. Rumor has it that there is some Taino blood in us as well.” – Vianessa Castaños

On Identity Confusion

“As a child, teenager and even in my 20s, I wondered where I fit in the United States. (I was born in the United States, but my parents are from Costa Rica.) Was I Black like the African-Americans I knew in my schools? Their experience in the United States was completely different from my family’s. My parents wanted to come to the United States, which is a major difference to many African-Americans who are the descendants of American slaves. Also, I met African-Americans who did not think positively of the growing Latino population in many American cities. I also have more in common with Latinos of other racial backgrounds: language, religion, history, immigrant parents and the complexities that come with this “hybrid” status (with one foot in America and another in Latin America). But like African-Americans, my racial background is Black and I have dealt with the racism that has painfully made me question who I am. I’ve also experienced anti-Black racism from other Latinos who assume I am African-American and can’t identify with them and/or have prejudices against Blacks learned either from their home countries or in America. This is a confusing place to be in the world. It has never helped matters that my last name is Anglo-based. People’s confusions about me have forced them to ask me, “what are you?” on more than one occasion. That question, even now at 36 years old, brings me back to my childhood when I was questioning what I was supposed to be, or think or who to play with.” – Ivy Farguheson “I was born in my beloved Puerto Rico and grew up in both the United States and my native home. It was a painful cultural and racial reality for me and others here in America. A nation that only seems to recognize Anglo/African American cultures…” – Eusebia Aquino-Hughes “I’ve never really felt that I fit in anywhere outside of the Caribbean cultures of Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other islands. My country’s history and ethnic make- up is more akin to other countries with very heavy African slave trade. Caribbean history is very different to say, Chile, or other Latin-American countries with different ethnic make-up. Despite the differences in ethnic make-up, I am expected to feel an automatic kinship to people of these Latin cultures simply because we speak the same language.” – Vianessa Castaños

On Discrimination

“…The question, “what are you?” causes me to nearly cry. I regress back to a period in time when I did not know where I fit in. As an adult, I was romatically involved with another Latino who had dated African-American women before we were together. This lead me to believe that he would be all right with dating me. However, every once in a while he would “remind” me that I was not really as Latino as he was. He never accepted my Afro-Latina “status” because he believed Latinos were the descendants of the Spanish or the Spanish-Indian “mixture”. When he dated African-American women, he never had to address this issue, but with me, his feelings of superiority became apparent. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I was devastated by his feelings of supremacy over Afro-Latinos. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident with other non-Afro-Latinos, but it is not. There have been many times when I’ve explained my “Latina-ness” to other Latinos, only to be told I’m not really Latino or not as Latino as they are.” – Ivy Farguheson “I was racially bullied at school as a child …by both whites and Africans Americans…I have answered questions such as “what color are you?”, “How did you get into America?”,  “Did you steal your Nursing Degree or did you buy it?”. I have been removed by my employers three times from my nursing jobs since 9/11 on what they call “cleanup Mexican day” at work…” – Eusebia Aquino-Hughes “It is no secret that racism is deep rooted in our country’s history (Dominican Republic). No one wants to claim to be black and being called ‘negro’ is often considered insulting. It makes no sense whatsoever since about 75% of the island is of African decent. My personal experience was limited to my grandmother insisting I had bad hair, even though I’ve always loved my big curly hair! Hell, my big curly hair makes me money from time to time! When I was in high school, my best friend was Puerto Rican and her mother often referred to me as her ‘little black friend’ even though I’m pretty light skinned compared to most of the Dominicans I know.” – Vianessa Castaños

In The Media

“We are never cast as “Latinas” in films and on TV shows and the Latina-focused magazines never make us the examples of beauty. In fact, I would argue these magazines don’t recognize us as existing at all.” – Ivy Farguheson “American media and Hollywood has no positive need for Latinos or Afro-Latinas. There are only negative images of housemaids, bellboys and street walkers. The American media only wants to see images of poor dirty Latino males constantly jumping over the fence. There is no coverage of Latinos in magazines, local or national newspapers, or television news networks across America. I challenge America to move beyond whiteness and blackness.” – Eusebia Aquino-Hughes “I don’t think the media really portrays Afro-Latinas at all. It is like we do not exist. Working in the entertainment industry, it’s as though film makers either don’t realize or accept the fact that we all come in different shades. Afro-Latinas cast in projects are usually portrayed as African Americans or an ethnically ambiguous role whose race/ethnicity is never identified in the film. Often times, I can’t even wear my hair natural because, even though Hispanic women are often seen in films having curly hair, my hair is ‘too’ curly and makes me look mulatto. The few times that I’ve seen roles calling for a Dominican, I either don’t get called in for the audition or lose out to someone with lighter skin who often times is not even of Caribbean decent. Don’t get me wrong, I think an actor, regardless of race or ethnicity can play a role, but it’s frustrating to see the same stereotypical image of the fair skinned or slightly tanned Latina with long straight hair.” – Vianessa Castaños

Advice To Other Afro-Latinas

“Find a mentor or even an older Afro-Latina who is proud of who they are and build a friendship with them. That relationship will allow you to express your frustrations but also remind you that you should also be proud of who you are.” – Ivy Farguheson “…be proud of your culture and roots…Do not hate anyone who hates you because if you do, you will lose who you are…Stand up and be proud! You belong! God does not make trash or illegals. No human being is illegal!..” – Eusebia Aquino-Hughes “Love yourself, no matter what.” – Vianessa Castaños “Another Latino festival has come and gone…and yet another missed opportunity for Latinos’ African roots to be shown and celebrated. It was funny because even the vendor who had sold me the jersey (who also happened to be Honduran) questioned me as to where I was from. Many assumed that I was African American, and was wearing the stuff just to fit in at the festival. I do remember receiving a few dirty looks from a few Indigenous-looking Latinos at the festival. Being the Brooklyn native that I am, I mean-mugged them back, letting them know that I wasn’t intimidated by them. I’m not some interloper trying to crash ‘their’ festival. I belonged at that festival just as much as they did.”Kevin Alberto Sabio/pg. 60, Raise Your Brown Black Fist: The Political Shouts of an Angry Afro Latino

Sources: Special Thanks To: Ivy Farguheson, Eusebia Aquino-Hughes, and Vianessa Castaños

 

Tracy López is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family. She can also be reached via Twitter @Latinaish.

 

Image source: Ivy Farguheson

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Tracy López

Tracy López

Tracy is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family.

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Comments

  1. So glad to see a post on this topic. It’s one that often isn’t addressed in public conversations, even though we hear about it and think about it enough. I’ve watched individuals left out of functions and heard criticism behind closed doors that questions whether they should be considered “real” Latinas. Thanks to these three ladies for sharing their experiences and wisdom. I know a lot of women need to hear this message.

    • Thanks, Chantilly. I love that these 3 women were so honest and generous in lending their voice to this article. I agree that there are a lot of people out there that would benefit from reading this — Afro-Latinas who will empathize with these women, and others who are ignorant of the struggles others face. I learned a lot putting this article together. I hope others learn something reading it too.

  2. Wow! Really, I feel naïve for not considering this ethnic group before. I just have had NO exposure before. Thanks for opening my eyes, so I can be conscientious in the future. Now that I have learned, I will hold myself and my family accountable. (I secretly hope this is one of those times where you learn about something and then you run into it everywhere, lol)

    • Very much agreed with your last sentence! Sometimes awareness of something you didn’t know about, opens your eyes to what has always been there.

  3. We are a proud people!

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this article. I’m Mexican (dad) and Black (mom) and no one ever know what I am! You should see the looks I get when I speak Spanish.

    I’m happy that folks are recognizing that Latinas come in all hues and experiences. My family has been in CA for 3 generations on my father’s side. If you get a chance, check out Gaspar Yanga in Mexico. When I’ve been told that there is NO WAY I cold be this dark and “really” be Mexican I tell them to look up Gaspar or take a trip to Oaxaca.

    Thanks for recognizing us.

    =)

    PEACE,
    Shay Olivarria
    Financial Education Speaker & Author

  5. Jean Pierre says:

    I think Afro Latinos are being ignored because they have not been highlighted them enough. The main problem is people are confused of what a Latino is & until it is clear they won’t be represented & their voices won’t count. It is important that this is clarified. I have added some information below to help clarify this matter.

    Latin is a Lenguage that originated in Europe Italy to be precise. This is why Latinos have European traits & share similar genetic features. I guess to put it simple a Latino/Latina could go to Spain, Portugal or Italy and be mistaken for a citizen due similar features. Example Sofia Vergara She could go to Italy, Spain or Portugal and blend in quite easy. Now if Sammy Sosa or David Ortiz went they would think he is African even Rosario Dawson or Zoe Saldana would be classified as African in those countries no one would consider these people as people who originated from these countries our even Latino or Latinas so it is pointless to be consider a Latino/Latina.

    Why waste all the time convincing people you are Latino/Latina when their are more important issues that need to be addressed. Like Poverty & racial hatred towards Haitians & also African Americans in east coast communities. It is a little insulting when you tell and African American you are not black but Latino when you have African roots. This creates tension among blacks & Latinos. Example why do Rosario Dawson & Zoe Saldana claim to be Latino and due work for Latino Organizations like Voto Latino but neglect the Afro American communities & only respond when their is a big disaster like Haiti? Where the whole world got involved!

  6. uouuu great article, I didn’t know I was a afro descender to recently U thought I was India clara, lol…I am very proud of my skin color and my natural curly hair

  7. I can so relate to this and proudly identify as Afro-Boricua/Afro-Latina. I always felt like I did not fit in anywhere. My experience in Puerto Rico were different. Glad to have our experiences voiced. Ashe!

  8. Muchas gracias to all at New Latina!

  9. This is a fantastic article. Thanks so much for featuring these lovely Latinas. Their comments and experiences mirror my own.

    Monica

  10. Thank you for the wonderful, courageous voices. As a woman who is black & chicana (with black ancestry on the chicana side too!!) I have often faced discrimination from both black and latino people, some even in my own family. it is a celebration to embrace EVERYTHING you are. It is very empowering to see others having gone through the same experiences. Thank you!

  11. Ms. Rivera says:

    Does anybody else’s heritage get ignored by others? For example: I am dark brown and people at work know that I am Cuban however they refuse to acknowledge or believe it. When people, usually women hear me speak Spanish, they roll their eyes. One time I was at dinner with my co-workers and boss and I asked the Spanish waiter for a doggie bag in Spanish of course. All my coworkers including the European descent white Puerto Rican all blinked at me in disbelief and finally my boss said, “Girl, he probably don’t know what you said.” Why do people refuse to believe I’m Cuban when there are plenty of brown Cubans? I’m like helllllooo!!

  12. Ms. Rivera says:

    By the way Tracy, thanks for the uplifting article. I too live in DC

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