Growing up as a little girl, I would always look forward to sitting down on the living room couch with my mother to watch her favorite novelas with her. It was considered bonding time for us, watching the saucy plots develop, rooting for our favorite characters and even debating about what we thought would happen next.
As time passed, I would often wonder why I did not look at all like the women in the novelas. Being a latina, it is often construed that you should have fair skin, big brown eyes, and long dark hair along with a great hourglass shape. I would literally look myself in the mirror and wonder why I had such big, curly, coarse hair or why my skin was so much darker and my nose wasn’t as skinny as the women I would see in the novelas. I am a Latina after all… so why in the world did I look so far off from what I should?
Years passed before I discovered that the problem was never with me, but with the unfair, almost non-existent representation of Afro-Latinos in both the Spanish and English worlds and media.
Sofia Vergara, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez are some of the distinguished Latinas in Hollywood right now, and have all earned respectable praise in each of their fields. Their visibility to the public eye does not exactly mean that other types of latinos are given much leeway. The many types and groups and sub-cultures of Latinos fail to be represented in the media, which is terrible because we make up so much of the community itself.
As an Afro-Latina, I have struggled with acceptance from both my Latino side and my Black side. Hispanics almost always look at me in bewilderment whenever I speak Spanish to them so fluently, they think I’m black, so they can’t possibly imagine why I can switch up and speak it. They always want to ask me why, but the answer is so blatant. It used to hurt to know that people judged me on the color of my skin, and wanted to simply separate me and put me into their conjured up perfect little race box that they made up in their heads. I used to feel like I was an outsider to both worlds, and honestly at some point, hated myself for it.
According to an NBC article: Afro-Latinos Seek Recognition, And Accurate Census Count ““Among Latinos, the idea of talking about mixed race can still be taboo,” said Ed Morales, adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. “It’s easier to say that you’re Dominican or Mexican, rather than delve into your racial background.” He attributes this to the traditional cultural forces at play in Hispanic culture. “In our own families, there is not a lot of discussion of being mixed race, there is not a lot of open acknowledgement of it.”
It is safe to say that the reason for this issue is racism, and deep rooted colorism. In the Latino world, racism is way more prominent than it may seem. Latinos love to deny their blackness! Take Dominicans for example, most of them do not like to touch base on the fact that a large part of their ancestry comes from Africa, and that because of that they are part African. Instead they just hold onto being Dominican and ignore or deny that they have anything to do with being black, when the evidence is in their very own blood.
There is reason for this type of denial. Afro-Latinos or people who identify as both black and Latino are more than often treated as outsiders in the Latino community, because just like in American culture, many Latinos pair being dark with being dangerous or a lesser human being.
I have experienced this type of racism my whole entire life. It is often times subtle but still a steady stream of “Oh you’re dark and you have thick curly hair, you cannot be Latina, you don’t fit in”. Most Latinos can walk into a store and not feel as though they are being watched based on the color of their skin, or can turn on the television and see their ideal type of beauty being showcased and feel like they belong with their culture.
I am always left leery about why this issue of colorism is so deep rooted in our community and how alike it is to American white supremacy, and racism.My own grandmother has relaxed her hair her whole life, trading in her big brown afro for a less voluminous, more manageable hairdo. She has bleached her skin and limited her time outside every time she was getting “getting too dark”. These habits passed down unto my mother, and almost trickled down unto my sister and I. Thankfully I have been able to open my eyes to stop this cycle, and help my sister and our future children out of it as well.
It is also safe to say that Latino culture, along with African culture, Asian culture, even Indian culture all favor European features within their communities and either look past darker tones or don’t even look their way at all. Most cultures have become white washed and hold lighter skin higher than the darker counterparts.
The concept of an Afro-Latino is still a new idea to most people. Many cannot wrap their heads around it. People must understand that a lot of our culture is filled with African influences, we cannot keep denying our melting pot of a community.
“It is important because, for the most part, we are invisible,” said Jiménez Román. We are invisible because when people speak of Latinos, they have in mind a particular stereotype of Latinos – physically, culturally, racially – and that doesn’t necessarily match our reality.”- Miriam Jiménez Román, Executive Director of the Afro-Latin@ Forum in New York City.
We are all beautiful, and full of life, all of us should be represented and accepted and able to contribute to our colorful, vibrant culture.