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.
“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
“…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