Sunday, August 26, 2007

Critical Latinidad

"Who is a Latino," at La Tertulla

"Selling Our Souls: Latinidad and Political Praxis," at LatinoPundit

It is only fairly recently that Black Latinidad entered the discussion--although it has always existed. Of the 10 million Africans estimated to have crossed the Atlantic, a good 8 or 9 million went to the Caribbean and Latin America.* And while the most famous example of complicated race issues has concerned Brazil (almost 4 million of the 10), Africans and people of African descent have been a focal part of Latin American and Caribbean history across the board.

The chicken or the egg? Afro-Latin Americans and Afro-Latinos disproportionately wrestle with the legacies of colonialism and slavery (just as Africans and Afro-X across the world do) and therefore have less access to education and economic opportunities...and therefore are less likely to be the ones writing the mainstream histories, doing the mainstream talking, etc. On top of that, race and class dynamics that range from mestizaje to racial democracy are particular to Caribbean and Latin American history and make it harder for Afro-Latin American and Afro-Latina/os to be seen. Caught in-between phenotypical assumptions of blackness and social or cultural affinities to Latinidad, Afro-Latina/os occupy a no-man's land that makes many cut-and-dried Anglos, Latinos, and Blacks very uncomfortable. Especially in the U.S., where the pressure has often been to fit in wherever you can (the Puerto Rican born Arturo Schomburg, bibliophile of black history and culture is a good example, arguably, by the end of his life he went from "Arturo" to "Arthur").

As a result, Black Latinidad/Afro-Latino studies have been minimized even as Latino Studies and all its various permutations (Puerto Rican Studies, Chicana/o Studies) remain on the rise. The result is not so extreme as a whitewashing of Latina/o and Latin American history and culture but certainly an over-browning, where the relevant historical and cultural connections stem from Spanish, non-Spanish European, and indigenous interactions but not the African. See here.

Latina/o Studies, et. al. grew out of a need for social justice, but eso causa tiene sucio when those same intellectual initiatives contribute to a different kind of myth-making, when it does not reconcile its own racism and classism with its politics.

And not to let anyone off the hook, the responsibility is on African American Studies as well to take seriously a discussion of Afro-Latina/o history and culture--just as it should take seriously a discussion of black West Indian history and culture, or African immigrant history and culture.

Some mainstream attention has gone in this direction. Here's an interactive article from the Miami Herald a little bit ago called "A Rising Voice: Afro-Latin Americans". And scholars from Colin Palmer to Juan Flores to Augustin Lao-Montes have brought this issue to the table again and again.

But it pretty much looks like it will be an issue that the current generation and the next generation are going to end up tackling--if only because it is the reality of their experience inside and outside of the U.S.

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*This estimate of the slave trade is quoted from Philip Curtin and much debated. His are some of the more conservative estimates. It breaks down pretty much as follows:
Brazil: 3.8 million (less conservative estimates say 5 or 6 million, and so on down the list)
Spanish Caribbean & America: 1.7 million
French and British Caribbean: 3.4 million
United States: 5 to 600,000
Other Caribbean: 5 to 600,000

1 comment:

Latino Pundit said...

When I went to Honduras, I was surprised to go through a town that was predominantly black. My shock was, because everywhere else that I had gone was tanned.

Later, I found that they where called Garifunas. I am sure the case is the same in many other Central/south American countries.

What you say in this post is true. A more round (and truer) education would include these facts in African and Latin studies.