Afro-Latinos have turned social media to affirm, declare and celebrate their identities.
At the beginning of Black History Month, Juliana Pache, an Afro-Cuban/Dominican singer, activist, and marketer created the Twitter hashtag #BlackLatinxHistory. The hashtag went viral. “I was underwhelmed by Latinx publications that fail to recognize the huge Afro-Latinx population in Latin America and in the US,” she told GuerillaFeminism.org, “I wanted to share our stories, and we have been!”
The social media engagement and activism in the Afro-Latino community has sparked meaningful conversations and mobilization both in-person and online, as well as national and international coverage. In the last five years, there has been an increasing amount of Afro-Latino coverage. Mainstream news sites like Latina and NPR as well as verticals like NBCBLK and Fox Latino have published content about the Afro-Latino community. A recent NBC piece “Two Afro-Latinas Embrace Their Heritage During Black History Month,” speaks with with two Afro-Latinas about identity and the #BlackLatinxHistory hashtag. Leah Hairston told NBC “Our blackness is often demeaned in [Latino] culture. You don’t really want to have black roots or you don’t want to embrace what it means to be ‘African-anything’ because the history of systemic oppression.” This speaks to the history of classifying Afro-descendant people in Latin America by their skin tone.
The belief that being Black and Latino are mutually exclusive is a blanket assumption that dismisses the Afro-Latino identity. “I had to fight to be Afro-Latina,” says Jamila Aisha Brown, an Afro-Panamanian freelance writer, and digital consultant. “[Being Afro-Latina] I’ve gotten Latino checks from Latin Americans …I’m tired of having to explain myself.”
“I first heard of the term Afro-Latino around 2009 or 2010 and it encompassed who I am… before that I identified as Black with Panamanian heritage,” says Tamika Burgess, an Afro-Panamanian freelance writer. Burgess recalls that growing up in LA she encountered many black people that were ignorant to the Afro-Latino identity. “Coming to New York City I’m more comfortable because there were more people like me,” added Burgess.
Due to the multifaceted identity that many Afro-Latinos have it is often hard to assert their identity in the US where there is a narrow and rigid view of blackness. According to Judith Marie Anderson, assistant professor of Africana/African-American Studies — Center for Ethnic Studies at Borough of Manhattan Community College — “[It is} difficult for Afro-Latinos to negotiate their identity [within the US] because there aren’t many opportunities to assert their heritage.” Anderson added “The younger generation of Afro-Latinos that were born in US are more likely to identify as black because they understand that they are seen as black and treated as such.”
Brown remembers that when she was younger some of the African-American girls in her school thought she was trying to be different because she could speak Spanish. “Going to Panama was awesome because I didn’t have to explain who I was,” added Brown.
Lack of representation in mainstream media is one of the reasons Brown believes Afro-Latinos have taken to social media. One finding from “The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media,” released by Columbia University finds that from 2010 to 2013 the percentage of prominent Afro-Latino performers has increased. Afro-Latino actors accounted for 18.2 percent of Latino film actors and 16.7 percent of Latino TV actors, although their roles were generally confined to supporting roles in both media.
Burgess is also the curator and creator of a newsletter for and about Afro-Latinas called “Es Mi Cultura.” “I created the newsletter to create awareness about successful Afro-Latinas and other content created by Afro-Latinas…. I follow many Afro-Latino content creators and people who share that content on social media so I compile that content and release it in my monthly newsletter,” says Burgess. “I would have loved to have something like this when I was younger because I rarely saw people like me represented in the media,” added Burgess.
Social networks have become places for Afro-Latinos to gather and share their stories. Searching the hashtags: #AfroLatino, #Afrolatina, #AfroLatinx, #Blatino, #Blatina, #Blacklatino, #Blacklatina, #Latinegro, and #Latinegra shows a vibrant online community where Afro-Latinos are connecting and creating their own content. “[Twitter and Tumblr] have been great spaces because people are having great conversations about coming into their identities,” says Brown. “[Social media] has been great for just getting the word out about Afro-Latinos… it has been the forefront of Afro-Latino representation,” says Burgess.
Various blogs have been established in the last decade that cater to Afro-Latinos. One such blog is Ain’t I Latina, run by New York-based multimedia journalist Janel Martinez. At the end of February 2016, Martinez partnered with Alley NYC for the panel Social Media and the Afro-Latina Narrative. The panelists discussed how social media has amplified narratives within the community. Panelist Amanda Alcantara said “the viral aspect of social media has helped raise consciousness about Afro-Latinos.” Brown who was also a panelist said “the rhetoric around many of the narratives on social media are ‘We are here! We exist!’”
“The mainstream is slowly catching up, but Twitter has been a huge help in spreading awareness,” added Burgess. The spaces Afro-Latinos have created for themselves has brought mainstream awareness but as Burgess noted there is still work to be done in regards to Afro-Latino representation in the mainstream.