The history of race in the United States is often told in terms of black and white, a binary that leaves many out of the equation. “Blaxican” researcher Walter Thompson-Hernandez is trying to expand the conversation, with a project that features people who, like him, are African-American and Mexican. As part of a research project for the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at USC, where he works, he began interviewing people of “Blaxican” identity. The personal stories inspired him to take his project beyond academia and onto social media. So he started Blaxicans of L.A. on Instagram to share what he was seeing firsthand. Hernandez didn’t take on this project by himself. Arlene Mejorado also interviewed and photographed people for the project.
“Blaxicans are dual minorities,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “We represent two of the largest ethnic minority groups. And I think because Blaxicans represent two of the most aggrieved groups in Los Angeles, it’s important to understand that certain sets of issues and challenges that have been traditionally labeled as African American or Latino, ultimately, do not exist for people who self-identify as Blaxicans.” They are affected by both the killings of unarmed black men by police and mass deportations.
Walter’s portraits look at men and women of different ages, and some even show off pictures of their black and Mexican parents. And it’s perfect. The only thing he could do to make this project better is to photograph Miguel, who confronted his Latinidad on his latest album, Wildheart.
The project reminds us how much work there is yet to do to expand the ways we think about race, ethnicity and identity in the Latino community. After seeing the LA Times interview with Walter, Ivette Alé, (aka DJ Izla) brought up an equally important point about blacks in Mexico. “The ‘Blaxican’ experience of L.A. (and the greater U.S.) is rarely talked about and it is awesome that this article is highlighting it, BUT what is even more rarely talked about is that there are BLACK MEXICANS…..in MEXICO! ‘Mexican’ is not a homogeneous racial identity and the Afro-Mexican population of Mexico (and other parts of Latin American) has been systematically erased and ignored from our history. This populist narrative of ‘mestizaje’ that assumes we are all one race is a product of Mexican white supremacy trying to appropriate indigeneity in order to erase difference. Just sayin.”
Check out some of Walter’s work below, and read his interview with the LA Times here.