Despite the fact that dictionaries regularly add terms that we use colloquially – zoodles, hangry and TL;DR to name a few – we still do not have the term Afro-Latinx in the dictionary. For about a year, I have petitioned for the inclusion of this very important and necessary term to several dictionaries.
I first came to the realization of this oversight when doing research on a poem about Afro-Latinidad, which I hoped would educate folks on the meaning behind the term. Instead, I was saddened to learn that dictionaries, such as Merriam Webster and Dictionary.com, do not officially recognize the word.
While the term Latina is a recognized term in most major dictionaries, this is not enough for Afro-Latinxs. It doesn’t do enough to encompass a large group of people who are at the intersection of two identities. When I say I am Afro-Latina, I am saying I am a Black woman with roots in Latin America and Africa. I began embracing the term Afro-Latina about five years ago when there was little conversation around Afro-Latinidad in mainstream media. Through social media, there were many of us creating spaces and using our platforms to celebrate our stories and our culture.
Latinidad has a history of being anti-Black and rewriting history.
Latinidad has a history of being anti-Black and rewriting history to diminish the impacts colonialism, slavery and white supremacy have had in Latin America. Many of this stems from economic and political inequalities that have left white Latinxs with more power than Black and Indigenous Latinxs. It is important to understand that although many folks interchange race with ethnicity, Latino/a/x is not a race. Latinxs can be white, Black, Asian or Indigenous. Because of this, it’s important to center those who are not equally represented in media.
Not only are we always left to hyphenate to fit within the margins of a term that does not celebrate us, but we are also reduced to screaming into an empty room about the ways in which Latinidad is complicit in our erasure.
As I wrote the poem, “Afro-Latina,” I began to understand that the exclusion of this term is a micro-aggression that leads to more damaging macro-aggressions. Even Latinx, the gender-neutral term for Latino/a, was rightfully added to the dictionary this year, but we’re still waiting for Afro-Latina to be recognized.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t value our Latinidad; it means that for us, our Latinidad does not exist without Blackness.
In my petition, I explained that adding the term Afro-Latina in the dictionary is “about creating visibility for those who have been erased from media for far too long.” It’s about acknowledging that someone can be Black and Latin American or of Latin American descent, something that we constantly have to explain to both other Latinos and Latin Americans as well as those outside of the Latinx community. For many of us, using the term Afro-Latina/o/x rather than Latina/o/x allows us to center our Blackness. This doesn’t mean that we don’t value our Latinidad; it means that for us, our Latinidad does not exist without Blackness because of the way we are racialized in the United States, and especially in Latin America. As a first-generation US citizen whose parents are from the Dominican Republic, I make it a priority to use my privilege to speak about my culture and tell stories that celebrate what it means to be a Black Latina.
It has been almost a year since the inception of this petition and thanks to social media as well as Latino Rebels, Ain’t I Latina? and People Chica, we have close to 900 signatures. Although I am grateful for those who have used their platforms to spread the word about the petition and create a dialogue about why this matters, I am disappointed that the term still hasn’t been added to the dictionary.
My greatest concern is that Afro-Latinxs are disproportionately left out of the conversation of Latinidad in music, television and politics, leaving us internalizing the invisibility we feel. This erasure is felt in many ways and has left us feeling like we don’t belong and are not representatives of our own culture.
My greatest hope is that we continue to address the repercussions of living in a society whether in the United States or in Latin America that refuses to make room for true inclusivity. All we need to do is help each other to get to the other side of what true inclusivity and equality looks like.
This dream requires us to strip ourselves of all that tried to erase us. True change requires us to reimagine the way our society functions and whether it has been justly serving those within that community. I believe we can get there by centering those who have been left out of their own narratives for far too long, and we can get one step closer with one dictionary entry:
Af·ro | \ˈa-(ˌ)frō \ La·ti·na /ləˈtēnə/
1: a woman or girl who is a native or inhabitant of Latin America of African ancestry.
2: a woman or girl of Latin American origin with African ancestry living in the U.S.