Guest Column: To Be Black, Brown and In Between in 2017, by Jessica Floyd and Nina Vázquez

Jessica Floyd is the daughter of Gregory Floyd. Jessica Floyd (2018; Politics and Government with minors in Africana Studies, Communications and Sociology) and Nina Vázquez (2019; Criminal Justice and Politics and Government with a focus in Race and Ethnic Inequalities) are students at the University of Hartford.

Many times accounts of racism and discrimination are told through the lens of a Black person. As a society, we tend to overlook the reports of appropriation, discrimination, institutional racism and microaggressions experienced by Latinos. More often, the Afro-Latinx perspective is divided and forced to represent a Black or Latino voice, which lessens the contextual value of this population’s insight. It is more important now than ever to embrace an overlap of shared struggles, culture, and community among peoples of the African and Latino Diasporas.

A Diaspora is defined as “the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland.” Within both the African and Latino Diasporas, nationality and ethnicity of peoples African and Latino ancestry overlap. It’s important to note that only 6% of the Atlantic Slave Trade came into North America, 94% went to Central, South America, and the Caribbean. With that being said a person with Cuban nationality can be both a Latino and a person of darker complexion and have other features that would distinguish this person as Black or of African ancestry. For the common person who has not given much thought to this intersection, it is hard to process the concept of an Afro-Latinx. An Afro-Latinx individual can be a person with both a Black parent and a Latino parent or a person that has a nationality or ethnicity of a Spanish speaking country and African ancestry. Many public figures identify themselves as Afro-Latinx including Lupita Nyong’o (Afro-Mexican), Carmelo and Lala Anthony (Afro-Puerto Ricans), Evelyn Lozada (Afro-Puerto Rican), Rosario Dawson (Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican), and Roberto Clemente (Afro-Puerto Rican).

The intersectionality amongst both communities runs deeper than microaggressions and racism. Black and Latino cultures are historically intertwined thanks to colonization. The Spanish-speaking Caribbean shares things with African culture such as typical dishes and dances. Mofongo and Mangú, now a Puerto Rican and Dominican delicacy was once a food slaves made. Bomba and Plena which are beautiful dances brought from Africa that are still danced today while wearing traditional clothes. Traditional Bomba and Plena attire consist of long, wide skirts usually with a cotton white shirt which is similar to traditional African attire.

Acknowledgment and understanding of the Afro-Latinx identity are essential to the commonality between Black and Latino experiences in America. The term intersectionality is a critical sociological perspective that explores the “complex and cumulative way that the effects of different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and yes, intersect—especially in the experiences of marginalized people or groups.” A glance at major issues that have influenced many activists movements in the Black and Latino communities, show patterns of resistance to similar oppressions are evident.

Two major activists groups that demonstrate an intersection between Blacks and Latinos during the 1960s and 1970s are the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party. These groups both addressed issues of racial discrimination and police brutality. Both the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party provided free breakfasts, free health services, and clothing drives in inner-city communities. The Black Panther Party influenced the Young Lords Party, and these groups had members that belonged to both thanks to their Afro-Latinx identities. These groups were aware of the inequalities and intersecting issues their communities faced which lead them to work together in many instances. Interestingly, the Young Lords Party and the Black Panther Party gave a platform and highly recognized Afro-Latinidad. The groups addressed marginalization in the education system, by helping to establish multicultural studies on college and university campuses across the United States and Puerto Rico.

In the primary education system of the United States, the study of African and Latino Diasporas is close to nonexistent beyond Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas, Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Slavery, the Civil Rights Era and the colonization of Latin America. However, the core curriculum (classes often required across disciplines) focuses on Western Heritage, while placing Latin American Studies and Africana Studies on an elective level (which puts enrollment into the courses at the student’s discretion).

Within these Latin American and Africana Studies courses, the intersectional experiences of labor movements which center around Black and Latino leaders like Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. are taught. Even electives fell short of incorporating the leadership of women in these communities of color such as Assata Shakur and Dolores Huertas, both activists amongst the Black and Latino communities. Additionally, the concepts of migration forced and voluntary through the gentrification of a neighborhood to the deportation of a family are explored through the lenses of people of color. Not to forget, the similarities of struggles when referring to educational and career opportunities.

Inside the Black and Latino communities, two groups have the privilege of citizenship. In the Black community, African-Americans, and in the Latino community, Puerto Ricans do not have to go through the immigration process. However, citizenship was granted for complicated political reasons. In Puerto Rico’s case, President Woodrow Wilson granted Puerto Ricans citizens right before World War I in 1917. Allowing and deploying hundreds of Puerto Rican men to fight in frontlines of a war that was not theirs. Even though citizenship was granted, it came with restrictions. These limitations are the following, Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote in presidential elections, are not allowed to have representatives in the House or the Senate, they are not authorized to use other things such as Chapter 9, or have control of their imports and exports resulting in second-class citizenship. Puerto Rico is a special case within the Latino community, because of the strains of colonization. Colonization has also impacted people of the African Diaspora, (particularly on the continents of Africa and South America and various islands in the Caribbean). A population of the African diaspora (like Puerto Ricans) has access to naturalization and citizenship through birth, African Americans.

African-American men gained citizenship and voting rights through a series of legislative actions known as the Reconstruction Era Amendments. Following the end of the Civil War, the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation and death of President Abraham Lincoln, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. The Fourteenth Amendment provided a clause for citizenship which granted citizenship to all persons born in the United States which included former slaves. The Fifteenth Amendment protected the voting rights of men regardless of race, color or previous conditions of servitude. Although women later got the right to vote, by the enactment of the Nineteenth Amendment, the voting rights of African American women, as well as African American men, have been suppressed through many discriminatory tactics. In fact, Black and Latino communities experienced and continue to confront voter rights suppression. Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials work diligently to address voter suppression and legal issues concerning the Black and Latino communities as well as other communities of color.

While voting rights is a facet of citizen privilege, some Blacks and Latinos with this privilege overlook the social, political and economic issues concerning their social groups’ immigrant counterparts. ‘Dreamers’ and undocumented people are present in both the Black and Latino communities. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA), is a two-year program that allows undocumented people obtain driver’s licenses, the ability to go to higher ed, and many other useful resources. The common person often mistakes DACA as a Latino issue, but it is an intersectional issue for undocumented people of all backgrounds. Some of the major countries of origins for Black DACA applicants include Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Nigeria. Now under the termination of DACA hundreds of thousands of undocumented people are facing possible deportation, fear, and uncertain futures.

In addition to intersectional experiences concerning current events and public policies, the Black and Latino communities are confronting issues surrounding recent natural disasters. Currently, Puerto Rico is in a desperate state for food, water, and medical attention. With many countries’ donations being delayed the disparity proliferates. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 gave the United States full control over Puerto Rico’s imports and exports. The island is not allowed to receive merchandise from foreign countries without American intervention directly. All merchandise must be moved from foreign countries’ ships to American ships to be received by Puerto Rico. The Trump administration initially denied the suspension of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (also known as the Jones Act) for donation purposes. Countries like Jamaica have been trying to negotiate this law with the U.S. federal government to give their donations to the people of Puerto Rico but days following the devastation of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, Donald Trump waived the Jones Act.

As Blacks and Latinos confront policies issues of racism and discrimination in the United States, there is a need to come together now more than ever to address issues both groups are dealing with abroad in the Caribbean. Natural disasters events in the past month have devastated multiple countries in the Caribbean, affecting both people of the African and Latino diasporas. There is a call to action from the Caribbean to aid rebuilding efforts and show compassion in a time of severe need that both Blacks and Latinos in the United States should feel compelled to answer. As comprehensively shown through numerous examples above, intersectionality has bound Blacks and Latinos throughout history. These intersectional experiences are not new but have been around for centuries. Today Blacks and Latino communities continue to be affected by the same structures and institutions of oppression; circumstances of disaster; and movements for a better, more inclusive and equal tomorrow.

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