Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Afro-Latina Experience

Note: I hear this essay has been around the world a few times. It came to me via the Facebook gods and with no other citation than what is below. If you have an original for me to link and/or give credit to I would appreciate it! I am posting it exactly as I received it. ~Kis

By Ria Richardson, Page Editor

Puedes leer la traducción de este artículo aqui: La experiencia Afro-Latina

As I enter the small bodega, I feel a little nervous because a lot of people start to look at me in a funny way. I go up to pay and the cashier begins to talk to me in English with much difficulty. I answer the young woman in Spanish to make to conversation easier on her and her facial expression turns to shock. There is no noticeable difference between the other shoppers and I that would cause such discomfort except that I am a Latina of African descent.

To me, this incident is nothing out of the ordinary. Even though there are many Afro-Latinos like me, some people are unable to comprehend that a black person can be Latino as well. There are numerous Blair students that have had similar experiences to me.

Between two worlds

Hispanics of color are descendents of African slaves brought to Latin America. Since we are both black and Hispanic, we pertain to both cultures. "I can be in the two races; in the black and in the Hispanic," says freshman Leonel Caro, who is from the Dominican Republic. We can rap like Juelz Santana or dance salsa like the Venezuelan Oscar de Leon.

On the other hand, some Latinos believe that problems have emerged with the relationship between African Americans and Afro-Latinos. "I have felt that African Americans do not look at me in the same way, there is no unity," comments Maria Yordan-Torres, an Afro-Puerto Rican Spanish teacher.

Luis Murillo, an Afro-Colombian and a former mayor in Colombia, has experienced what Yordan-Torres feels. "There were some African American young men and they said to me, 'hey, an African American speaking Spanish ,' and they began to laugh," states Murillo.

Why is it?

Javiela Evangelista, a Dominican doing her masters in Latin American and African American studies believes that the hierarchy system is to blame for the denial. "Generally, those who have had power have been of European descent. I believe that because of this, some try to neglect everything African," says Evangelista.

There are many reasons for the ignorance about Afro-Latinos. "I have noticed that people from Central America look at me weird maybe because there is not much African presence in their countries," states junior Tracey Davis.

Others feel that the lack of knowledge is a result of U.S. presence in the region. Evangelista believes that the United States has created this mentality of ignoring African culture. She gave the example of the U.S. invasion in the Dominican Republic where they gave power to the dictator of the country, Rafael Trujillo, who tried to "purify" and "lighten" the Dominican population. In this way, a division was created within the population, says Evangelista.

Problems caused

Most people do not believe that I have Latino blood. "I was very surprised because you are so dark that you gave me the impression of being from here," says junior Andrea Sempertegui, a Bolivian.

I can't speak Spanish in many places without feeling uncomfortable. One time when I was buying tickets to see the salsero Gilberto Santa Rosa, I entered the store along with my mother and everyone's eyes were glued on us. We finally reached the front of the line and the cashier never attended us and continued on with customers behind us, like we were invisible.

Problems in the Afro-Latino population

The problem of negating the African presence has gotten worse. In the Dominican
Republic, it is evident that the majority of the population are of African descent, but many avoid their African identity. I went to Santo Domingo and there were people darker than me telling met that there was no way I could beDominican because I am so dark.

It is a shame that some Afro-Latinos deny their true roots and identity. I hope that we can abandon prejudices in order to form a more united Latino community.

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