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Blackness is not a monolith.
It can’t be shoved into neat little comforting packages. We’re a beautiful patchwork of shades, skin tones and cultures as well.
From September 15 until October 15, the nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage month. It’s a time to honor the culture and contributions of Americans whose ancestral roots are planted in Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The party starts on 15th to commemorate independence days for Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Mexico’s independence day is September 16th (no, not Cinco de Mayo!) and Chile’s is on the 18th.
But Latino (or Latinx for our gender nonconforming community) culture isn’t a monolith either. Stats from the Pew Research Center shows a quarter of Latinx Americans identify as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean or of African descent with roots in Latin America.
So as part of our own celebration, we are spending the next two newsletters uplifting Afro Latinx voices. Consider forwarding this newsletter to those in your circle who would love to learn more about Latinx pride and legacies. If you identify as Afro Latinx from the South, shoot me a video or photo of you or your fam/friends celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and what this month means to you to [email protected].
Celebrating outside the race/ethnicity box
If you’re looking for a place to find a collage of joy, Instagram’s @afrolatinas_ is curated by Amanda Pericles, a 29-year-old Black Dominican American and speech language pathologist in Charlotte, N.C.
The feed features Afro Latina beauty queens with their coily crowns of natural hair, proud honor-sash-wearing college graduates clenching their degrees and other doses of Afro Latinx pride, like this Afro-Dominicana owned business. But it is also a space where she confronts the issues diluting that pride: anti-Blackness, colonialism and colorism.
“My page is all about representation, learning and unlearning, and rejecting the ideals that white supremacy have imposed and indoctrinated us with,” Pericles said.
Pericles didn’t start identifying as Afro Latina until a couple of years ago. Surrounded by Dominican and Guatemalan culture growing up, she enjoyed watching her mother indulge in old-school bachata or merengue despite her conservative household considering those forms of music secular. When it comes to food, Pericles loves plantains, anything with rice and beans, and Pastelon – a Dominican dish similar to shepherd’s pie. She identified as Dominican and was the only Hispanic student in her class while attending a predominantly white, all-girls private school.
She started getting hints that there was more to her identity while attending Boston University,. Although she didn’t feel connected with BU’s Hispanic community, she hit it off with Black and Haitian students and met her Haitian boyfriend (now her hubby). She also embraced her natural hair journey. While people back at home would identify her as Dominican, she was coded as a light-skinned Black woman in Boston. Pericles recalls one college friend’s shock to hear her speak to her mother in Spanish.
The lightbulb moment came a little after college, in October 2015, while listening to a spoken word piece called “Afro Latina” by Afro-Dominican poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo.
“The poem really resonated with me when she was talking about the boxes that we check or we don’t check or that we’ve been told to check,” Pericles said. “It’s not that I am Black on one side and Latin American on the other side. I am a Black, Latin American person. Like, blackness is what made up so much of Latin American culture to begin with.”
That revelation spawned the Afro Latina account, now an educational tool that has been featured in The Grio and a New York Times article about Afro Latinas creating space for themselves on Instagram because they didn’t see themselves in the media. It also connected Pericles to people doing similar work.
Here are a few more recommendations of folks you should follow from Pericles and myself:
- Brown Sugar and Carnela: Keyanna Gotay, a first-generation American who lives in North Carolina, has Garifuna roots. The Garifuna people are Afro-indigenous people who originally herald from St. Vincent, but were exiled during the 18th Century to Honduras. Gotay empowers other Afro Latinas through her T-shirt line Brown Sugar and Carnela, which means cinnamon in Spanish. You can also catch her living as a flight attendant on Instagram.
- Morena Roas: A queer, Black, Puerto Rican artist who has made a name for herself in Houston but has performed at LGBTQ+ celebrations in Brazil.
Afro Latinx pride in the South
For those who know me, y’all know I’m a history nerd. Here’s some interesting read of Latinx history in the South.
Learn about Esteban Hotesse, the first Afro-Latino member and only Dominican-born member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
A story about the “underground railroad” that helped Black people escape enslavement by traveling to Mexico was probably one of my favorite finds from last year. The path included parts of Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.
Have a great weekend and keep spreading your Black Joy! See ya’ next week for part two!