"Afro Latina" is a term gaining a lot of steam and mostly confusion amongst Americans. The most recent example comes our way via Love & Hip Hop: Miami star and Dominican singer Amara La Negra. After stopping by morning hip-hop program The Breakfast Club on Monday, host Charlamagne Tha God and DJ Envy almost immediately sparked a debate about her "Latinidad" as they questioned her Afro-Latina experiences in the entertainment industry.
The conversation initially took a turn when she was asked “What are you?” from Charlamagne. When she responded "Dominican. Afro-Latina" they revealed that their impressions of "Afro-Latina" meant being half-black, half-Latino or more redundantly a “Latino with an afro." Now, given that Orange is the New Black star Dascha Polanco has also made an appearance on the show, with the same discourse, the hosts seemed to forget the takeaways from the prior conversation. So, let's break this down...
What' is being "Afro-Latino," and the "Afro Latinidad"?
On a base level, we should understand that a person of color (POC) is defined as “A person who is not white or of European parentage." So, does being a light-skinned Latina/Latino mean you are not living the POC experience? NO. Does it mean you have privilege over your darker counterparts for sometimes being “white-passing”... well sometimes, yes. You'll definitely see more people playing 'Latina' roles in movies and on Latin-focused media outlets with lighter skin tones (ex in America: Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Sofia Vergara and even Cardi B.). But the fact remains that the Latina experience is a layered one because: you are either considered just dark enough (exotic, but white passing), too dark (are you black?) or not dark enough at all (I had no idea you were from ___, You don't look like ___!!). Yet, you will never be considered "white," even if you are fair skinned.
Where this becomes problematic for others to understand, is that we (Latinas/POC) often face these issues first amongst our own families and platforms. And that is especially true if you come from a colonized country. Due to generations of "colorism" first via the colonial mentality, it is ingrained in many of us as children that a “perfect color” exists and that usually means being fair skinned and that those with darker skin tones are perhaps less desirable. You are also encouraged not to marry someone "dark" as to assure that your kids don't end up with "pelo malo" (bad hair). These demands are only the first level of offensive, as they get way worse, and they will certainly be told to you by your blackest family member with a completely straight face! This is a dilemma first and foremost amongst our own people, politics and societal anti-blackness. But what is historically undeniable, is that the Black and Latino identity is deeply linked together, thanks to the trans-atlantic slave trade. However, it does not mean you are "African-American." It actually means that your family was likely on a caribbean island like the Dominican Republic and the colonials came with slaves and raped your women, and now some of you look "mixed," "light" and some of you don't. But either way you slice it, there's some 'Afro' in you. It is apparent it in our varied skin tones, facial features, hair textures, food and music. However, many of us have been taught to ignore our African heritage, let alone identify as "Afro Latino."
"Since Latino is not a race, its really not even an ethnic group, it is false to say that folks are Black and Latino, we are racially Black and then many refer to their ethnicity or i.e Afro-Boricua, Afro-Dominican. Often in the US Black becomes synomus [sic] with those that are African-American which then does not take into account the millions of african descendants, Black people globally that are in the world and in the USA.” — Rosa Clemente, Ph. D candidate at UMass Amherst’s W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency, 11 percent of the population in the Dominican Republic is Black while 73 percent of the population is mixed-race Black. Latin Times defines Afro-Latino as being “people with African descent whose origins are in Latin America and the Caribbean." So, can you be light skinned and be an Afro Latino? Absolutely (refer to: Mariah Carey & Rosario Dawson). It's important to highlight that this identity is more about where people and their ancestors came from vs. their language and where they live. But, if we don't first address the denial of these facts within our own families and communities, I'm not sure others will be willing or able to understand them either. The conflict amongst our own, is that admitting ones 'Blackness' is often perceived by many Dominican people as a betrayal, as it's the antithesis of Dominican national identity (ps: It's not, this is irrational thinking). In Amara La Negra's case, she often has to prove first to the American community that she's not just some 'exotic, dark skinned' woman, but that she's also equally as LATINA as J.Lo and Shakira.
“We tend to look for European roots and reject the indigenous and the African, and that’s disgusting,” Dominican actress Zoe Saldaña has said. “Being Latina is being a mix of everything. I want my people not to be insecure, and to adore what we are because it’s beautiful.”
Personally, coming from a Dominican household I (a light skinned Latina) identified as "Afro-Latina" and battled a sister who shunned the possibility of even considering herself as such. Her colorism and self-loathing played a huge part in that, making it a huge source of pain and heated debate between us. But, when your dad is greeted as "Habibi" in arabic at your local Dunkin Donuts because his ethnicity is undentifiable and many of your uncles are thought of as "black" and your aunts are considered "rare for a Dominican woman" because they have pale skin and green eyes... I guess that happens.
So in the simplest form, it's a personal choice on how you identify. By calling yourself an "Afro-Latina" it embraces your Afro-diasporic roots/ancestry and makes them central to your "Latinidad" and "Hispanidad." And whether or not you admit it, it's always going to be there.
We feel you AMARA! And hopefully someone stumbles on this article & learns something new.