Afro-Latino. It’s a term embraced by Latinos who recognize their African roots just as much as their Latin American or Caribbean origins. However, it’s also a word that causes great debate in the cultural lexicon.
For the first time, a nationally representative survey in the U.S. polled the Latino community directly to ask whether they considered themselves Afro-Latino. Conducted by Ana Gonzalez-Barrera and Gustavo López, the recent Pew Research Center survey released on March 1 revealed that a quarter of U.S. Latinos identify as Afro-Latino. However, when asked directly about race, 18% of Afro-Latinos identified their race or one of their races as black. More Afro-Latinos, 39% to b exact, actually identified as white alone or white in combination with another race, or shared that their race or one of their races was Hispanic (24%), according to the findings. (Side note: Hispanic is considered an ethnicity, not a race, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.) Close to 10% identified as mixed race.
While think pieces and opinion-based articles break down the origins of the term, Latino, and, furthermore, Afro-Latino; how some choose to identify with those terms, and, ultimately, why many within the Latino community are hesitant to call themselves black, the Pew Research Center’s data put figures behind the age-old complexity of identity and race for Latinos.
Walter Thompson-Hernandez, a researcher with the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at USC, understands the complexities first-hand as a “Blaxican” – his father is black and his mother is Mexican.
“Afro-Latino identity is so complex partly because of the narrow and rigid ways that we think about race in the U.S.,” says Thompson-Hernandez. “Afro-Latinos directly challenge these racial constructs. In addition, the [U.S.] Census, though now allowing people to identify with their country of origin, multiracial, or some other race, needs to do a better job of allowing people to identify with their ethnic and racial fullness.”
The Los Angeles native turned his research project focused on Afro-Latino identity into a photo essay, which can be found via his Instagram account: @BlaxicansofLA . One or two scrolls down the Instagram timeline and you can see how those featured tackle language, identity and nationality, among other important topics.
Over the last several years, social media has birthed venues for people to share their pride in Afro-Latino/a/x identity with mujeristas like Zahira Kelly and Rosa Clemente; digital destinations like Ain’t I Latina?, Black Latina Movement, Boriqua Chicks and La Galería Magazine; newsletters like Es Mi Cultura and Boletin, powered by Proyecto AfroLatin@; hashtags such as #BlackLatinxHistory (launched by Juliana Pache), as well as documentaries directed by Dash Harris, Magdalena Albizu and Omilani, among many other individuals and efforts.
This is where this report has been both embraced and questioned. While some Latinos have taken to platforms like Twitter and Facebook to declare the word Afro-Latino as divisive, self-identifying Afro-Latinos know there is a need for the term. “I realized that my identity was different based on the fact that I didn't see any Latinos that looked like me on TV,” says Afro-Latino blogger and author of Hanging Upside Down, Anthony Otero. “I knew that I identified with being black, but I couldn't articulate that. After years of reflection and research, I knew Afro-Latino was something that best described me.”
Many share the sentiment around invisibility and erasure of blackness within the community and proudly identify as Afro-Latino/a/x. The survey revealed that U.S. Latinos from the Caribbean are more likely to see themselves as Afro-Latino or Afro-Caribbean than those with roots elsewhere (34% versus 22%, respectively). More so, 65% of U.S. Afro-Latinos live on the East Coast and in the South, and they are also 70% more likely than other Latinos to be foreign born.
Outside of U.S. borders, terms like “moreno,” “indio,” “trigueño,” and the like are used to identify individuals who would be considered of African descent. There are roughly 130 million people of African descent living in Latin America today, reports Pew Research. There may be some questions as to how the survey was created and the way in which questions surrounding identity and nationality were phrased, however, what’s certain is that there’s now data to dive deeper into Afro-Latino identity in the states.
Recent conversations on race and Afro-Latino identity in the U.S. such as actress Zoe Saldana playing iconic singer Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic and Orange Is The New Black star Dascha Polanco having to break down her identity to Charlemagne of The Breakfast Club prove that there’s still more education needed.
There is no one-size-fits all description or look for Latinos, and Pew Research confirms that with it’s latest survey.