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Afro-Latino, A Category Designed to Divide

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It’s no secret to anyone that race, and ethnicity are complex subjects in the United States, and have become a subject of discussion within the Hispanic-American community nowadays.

There is a relatively new trend to create a subcategory under the Hispanic/Latino umbrellas – the Afro-Latinos. Afro-Latinos are one of many identities created by Liberal racial identity views, allegedly reflecting the complex nature of race and culture among Hispanics.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, one-quarter of all U.S. Latinos identify as Afro-Latino, and this is where I think the problem lies. It seems that Anglo divisive language, such as “African-American” (juxtaposed to “white”), is beginning to seep, to its detriment, into the Hispanic and Latino consciousness where it was not previously present.

In Hispanic culture, people are labeled “white”, “black,” “moreno”, “mulato”, “indio”, and so on. However, we were all primarily “Hispanic” and all “Latino”. Great Hispanic thinkers like José Vasconcelos, author of La raza cósmica, championed the multiethnicity of our Hispanic culture as a strength yet labeling us all as one race.

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Because Latin Americans are mostly “mestizos” –a mix of European, African, indigenous, and Asian ancestry– Vasconcelos believed our destiny is to transcend all other races. Vasconcelos thought that the mixing of races was of primordial significance for Hispanics.

Former President Barack Obama commented on La raza cósmica in a speech to the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) in 2008. “That’s big, a term big enough to embrace the rich tapestry of cultures and colors and faith that make up the Hispanic community,” said Obama in his 2008 speech, “big enough to embrace the notion that we are all a part of the NCLR of a greater community, that we have a stake in each other, that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, we rise and fall as one people.”

It was not missed on Obama that the main thesis of so many great Hispanic thinkers is that culture, not the color of skin, is not only what truly matters but what truly can transcend the sterile nature of racial discourse in the United States of America.  

Today, the Anglo tendency to create or dwell on divisive language, which comes from a bygone past, while claiming to want inclusive language is uncritically swallowed by many Hispanics in the U.S. and increasingly abroad.

“Afro” refers to culture –one can say that the African culture has influenced Hispanic culture through the slave trade in Latin America through the 16th to 18th centuries. That influence is still very much present in our countries in many ways –it is undeniable, but it is not a separate culture–. Instead, it has become intricately part of what it means to be Hispanic. Music with what some would label “African rhythm” is played and danced from the southernmost part of Chile to the northernmost part of Mexico. People in this region predominantly speak the same language, watch the same movies, telenovelas, share the same religion, and have many great traditions and celebrations in common. What divides them is less than secondary. It is of no true consequence; this is one people.

Perhaps one can argue that the rich tapestry that is Hispanic America is not as homogenous as our great Anglo neighbor to the north, but diversity is not mutually exclusive to homogeneity. Being Hispanic means that we can be very different within ourselves, but culturally the same. The New Englander is very different from the Louisianan, but both are fully American: so too is the case in the Hispanic world.

The history of Blacks and Africans in the Hispanic world has both good and bad moments. However, over time both ethnic and cultural mixing became an integral part of what it meant and means today to be Hispanic. The revolutionary Constitution of Cadiz in 1812, although not perfect, was debated with representatives from the entire Spanish Empire, from Manila to Buenos Aires to Cartagena to Madrid. Strong factions argued to decisively grant, because there was precedence, Spanish nationality, or Spanish identity to Blacks, albeit with several requirements.

The African influence has been part of the culture of Hispanics and Latinos of every other ethnic background since the birth of modern Hispanism; furthermore, Hispanic and Latino descendants of African slaves are not African, any more than white Argentinians are German or Italian, or white Peruvians are Spaniards. All are fully Hispanic/Latino; we forged a new culture in the New World with Iberian, Indigenous, and African peoples; light-skinned Hispanics are no more Hispanic than dark-skinned Hispanics.

To further label ourselves as is the Liberal tendency in the U.S. is a serious disservice to Hispanics and, one can strongly argue, is a practice that would be abhorrent to many of our ancestors who saw each other as one and worked against labels to create a culture of unity and common agreement.

In the 19th and early 20th century, before the Hispanic world was ‘in tune’ with white Anglo-Saxon America, and after the independence of Hispanic America from Spain, people from all over the Hispanic world read thinkers in such publications as La Iberia, La América and La Nación, just to name a few. The writers and readers of these publications did not label each other. On the contrary, they knew themselves to be a varied people, but one people, nonetheless.

What would common sense people say to those Hispanics, or even white Liberal Americans, who wish to see themselves as separate by labeling themselves with such terms as “Afro-Latino,” as is the custom in a country whose history is not only radically different from our own, but whose past and present ideals are often antithetical to ours? One can safely assume that this tendency is foreign, offensive, and foolish.

The term Afro-Latino / Hispanic infers a lack of full citizenship / belonging / identity of the people referred to. These terms are not used to define a group so much as to inflame
the respective groups.

Many black Hispanics have been in Latin America longer than those of European descent. Yet, you don’t find them using absurd terms like “Euro-Latino” or “Euro-Hispanic” or “indo-Latino” or even more strange “Asian-Latino.”

Let us allow ourselves to sink in. Please.

It is becoming a politically correct expression created by the Left, resulting in the segregation of a community, creating an “us vs. them” mentality –us, the Afro-Latinos / Hispanics vs. them, the rest of Hispanics / Latinos (who themselves are multi-ethnic)–, which brings about division and fosters a false victimhood, an oppressed mentality.

There is no room in Latin America for hyphens. A hyphenated Hispanic is not a Hispanic at all.

If anything, Americans should learn from us. Hispanics have something invaluable from our history to teach Americans. We should never be so quick to swallow something so foreign and indigestible to the Hispanic stomach.

Instead of allowing for toxic divisive language from Liberal America who seep into our worldview, we should liberate them from language that will never bring about inclusion and unity. Do not tear apart what our ancestors brought together.
What unites Hispanics is a shared culture, not the color of one’s skin.

Victor Jimenez