Yes, an individual can be both black and Latino. I repeat: one can be black and Latino at the same time. Like, the same person. At every opportunity, I try to proselytize others to understand this truth but I often get looks like I'd said you could both boil water and freeze simultaneously. As if blackness and latinidad were on opposite ends of some ethnic spectrum, like how some perceive being either straight or gay. For years, I've struggled to convey the idea that one can be both but recent news renews my hope of a change in the wind.
First Mexico legalizes same-sex marriage, and, in the same year, they recognize black Mexicans. Never in my life did I imagine either of those happening. For ages, I've known there were black Mexicans. After all, Spain brought slaves to all the Americas, not just what eventually became the U.S. They didn't just vanish into thin air once slavery was abolished. I'm proud of Mexico for finally acknowledging this. Now if we could just advance further in the World Cup...
As someone who identifies as Afro-Latino, I constantly experience prejudice based on my skin color. On my first day as a Spanish teacher in Los Angeles, many of my students snickered and assumed I must be the sub.
Once I volunteered at a soup kitchen with a cook who spoke little English. After watching her struggle to explain instructions to our group, I stepped in and revealed that I actually spoke Spanish. She immediately wagged her finger and asserted that I only knew bad words. I let her struggle on.
At times, I find myself at parties among other Spanish-speakers. Naturally, everyone will speak Spanish but speak to me in English, even though I respond in Spanish. Sometimes I want to shout, "would I really stay here for three hours if I didn't understand what everybody was saying?"
Of course, none of these examples are malicious. They just come from a place of ignorance. There are several large communities of Afro-Peruvians, Afro-Colombians, Afro-Panamanians and other Afro-(insert name of Latin American country here). How are you supposed to know if no one puts it out there? As long as society doesn't acknowledge us, we will continue to be invisible. Here's hoping more and more Latin American countries will acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of its people.
It upsets me greatly when I see dark-skinned Latinos claim solely indigenous heritage or argue that they are just deeply tanned. Really? And don't get me started on the hair. You can see scores of black Latinas scurry to the beauty salon to "fix" their nappy hair, while up north, there's a growing movement of African-Americans who are proud of their natural hair. I firmly believe that internationally recognizing Afro-Latinos, the way Mexico has done, will help instill a sense of pride in those communities. It will remind us all that the Hispanic community encompasses a rainbow of colors, not one archetype. I've seen blonde haired, blue eyed Latinos as well as dark-skinned Latinos with afros bigger than basketballs. We are all one vibrant familia.