Ask any American citizen what a Latino looks like to them, and most will automatically picture someone that looks like J. Lo, Shakira, Ricky Martin, George Lopez or Selma Hayek. A person with light bronze skin and long flowing hair; the women having the best of both worlds according to many. European features such as the loose locks but the “spicy” attitude and the body that can equal the voluptuousness of a Black woman. I blame our education system and stereotypes that keeps being reasserted throughout our media. When Brazil or Mexico is depicted in movies, shows and commercials, the people are portrayed as the stereotypical Latino and it does not deviate. Even the celebrities that are Black Latino such as Kid Cudi, Shar Jackson, Kelis, Miguel and Stacey Dash are seen as only Black and not Latin descent in American society.
The one celebrity that I came to know who unabashedly took the entertainment industry by storm, singing for the most part in Spanish and known as the Queen of Salsa is Celia Cruz. Fact; I heard about Celia Cruz, but did not realize that she was an Afro Latina until I watched a video of her remake of Guantananmera with Wyclef. After seeing Celia donning elaborate outfits complete with eye popping headdresses in every scene, speaking her native language and hearing her battle cry of Azucar, I had to know more about her. I had to know about the Afro Latino people of South America and the islands off the coast of the United States. Digging into the history of Celia Cruz, I stumbled upon a song that still makes me walk down the street like I’m on the cat walk, all eyes are on me and I’m OWNING IT!! La Negra Tienen Tambao. What can I say about this song but, if it makes a growing Black girl of America feel like a million dollars, I can only imagine the magic it activates in little Afro Latina girls. When they are not being seen as Latina in the eyes of western social media and the entertainment industry, they can look to Celia Cruz’s career and listen to her message in her songs.
Knowing Celia, opened my mind to other Afro Latinos. Their existence, their culture and their strength in the face of oppression. To read that the second largest people of African descent is in Brazil and the third in Columbia, as opposed to in the United States where Blacks make up 13.2% of the nation’s population. That although Afro Latinos make up 49.6% in Brazil, they make up a huge portion of the destitute population. Many live in favalas which are their name for slums or shantytowns. They still face mistreatment and injustice due to the color of their skin. Despite this, their vibrant culture has perforated the world around them so much that millions travel to Brazil to take part in their Carnival!
I find the Black Americans and the Afro Latinos struggles meeting in the middle. A vibrant people all around; a people so creative and innovative, that through us, we shape the very entertainment industry, yet face discrimination, injustice and we do not receive the credit that is due to us for effecting the world through our music, our dance, our fashion, our inventions and our overall being. We are the invisible movers and shakers of the world.
Celia Cruz came out of that invisible wall and took the world by storm. Her voice was not in the least meek nor was her style of dress; from the shoes she wore, which were specially made for her, to the head piece she chose to crown herself with as she wowed and captivated her audience. As I dive into learning more and more about Afro Latino people, I see more coming out and proudly proclaiming their Afro Latino heritage to themselves and to the world. We all have different cultures but we meet up in the middle where we all are the same; the same strong, vibrant, innovative and passionate people. Celia Cruz taught me that by owning her beauty and her Afro Latina heritage.
So recently on tour we had an amazing sister share her views on light skin vs dark skin, aka the colorism bs that plagues our community. She boldly admitted that as a dark skinned woman she never thought “mixed” people, especially those of fair complexion, had any problems similar to the ones she faced.
She now realized that the struggles faced by her lighter sisters can also be devastating, especially if neither side of their racial/ethnic heritage accepts them.
I was overjoyed that she understood our common struggle and that a light was shed on a false idea. The struggle may look or feel different but the roots are the same. While some may believe having lighter skin could have certain advantages (if that’s what you want to call it) there is still the age old struggle that has plagued those of biracial backgrounds since the plantation days – being too dark for your white siblings/family members and too light for your darker family members. The struggle is overwhelming.
While it may be a different one then being watched at a pricy boutique, the hurt and scars of colorism are still very much present and painful. So why make it harder on each other by deepening the gaps we didn’t put there in the first place?
No one has it worse or better; racism and prejudice is what it is. The sooner we realize that and unify as one big voice, the better our chances are at defeating bigotry.
So I use to be a bit annoyed when people would come up to me speaking Spanish.
I used to be offended.
Like “yes I am Latina but why are you assuming I speak Spanish?” I used to have this battle with my grandma because she refused to learn to speak English after being in this country for over 50 years. Like “hello grandma you are american now.” I wanted her to assimilate a bit and she was way too ethnocentric. I just wanted her to embrace her new home. She died in 2010 and I regretted not learning Spanish because our relationship was very stunted due to the language barrier.
Nonetheless I digress as I am torn with the issue.
Recently I saw a rant posting on FB from someone who was upset about when Latinos would approach them speaking Spanish assuming they did as well. I understood their point as I have held it too before, but it was the way in which this person expressed their disdain that bothered me.
I see it more from a diversity perspective. Latinos come in so many colors that although a person may look white or black they may very well be Latino as well. I could also see how it may be a bit rude as many Americans hold the same sentiment that if you live in this country you should know the language. This is a hot topic in our country and not just with spanish but other languages.
So my question to you is: is this a very offensive act or do some need to take a chill pill?
Recently I met someone who unbeknownst to me was a Black Latino but only claimed to only be Black because the relationship they had with their Latino parent was tumultuous, therefore they did not associate themselves with the culture.
I thought what the heck does the culture and ethnicity have to do with the parent. Yes I understand it may be a constant reminder of that parent and whatever was wrong between them but how can you deny your genealogy. My great grandmother (the original black Latina in my family) use to say “el sangre sabes” meaning the blood knows. Referring to it being so embedded in your mind, body and soul that it would just come to you. You would automatically enjoy the food, dance to the rhythms and so on.
Now this isn’t the first time I have experienced this. I know of a few people that have denounced a race/ethnicity due to an experience with their parents and upbringing. But I can’t help but wonder if there was an opportunity for advancement at a career would they then accept the race/ethnicity selfishly for the betterment of themselves and take advantage of it to their convenience.