Ten years ago, as I unpacked identity in my African-American studies summer seminar abroad, I began identifying as Afro-Latina. Somewhere between exploring Latinidad and learning about African American Paris-based expatriates, such as entertainer and activist Josephine Baker, poet Countee Cullen, and literary legend James Baldwin – whose lived experience introduced me to intersectionality – I adopted the term. It took 20 years, but I finally felt there was a word – and consciousness – that captured my entire being.
That was until around 2016.
The term Afro-Latinx had reached a new level of visibility. That year, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez introduced audiences to La Borinqueña, an Afro-Boricua superheroine, and Afro-Dominican actress Dascha Polanco schooled Charlemagne The God of The Breakfast Club on the existence of Afro-Latinas (sound familiar?!). In 2015, TV series Celia debuted on Telemundo, Graciela Dixon became the first woman of African descent to serve as Panama’s Chief Justice, and both Cuba and Brazil hosted events to celebrate natural hair. Both stateside and abroad, there was lots to look toward and celebrate.
For those like myself who had demanded to see themselves represented in media and spaces that had shut us out, greater visibility looked and felt like we were making strides. There were a lot of wins on that front, and more wins have and will continue to take place, but I started seeing a shift in the way the term was being used.
Online, where many Afro-Latinxs have created community, was one of the first places where the change was evident. (As a journalist, social media is apart of my daily diet, so I’m on several platforms throughout the day.) I remember stumbling upon a tweet where a self-identifying Afro-Latina referred to Black women as separate from herself. I was both confused and outraged. My sole purpose in identifying as Afro-Latina is to acknowledge my African descent alongside my Latin American roots. And at the core, for me, it’s saying I’m a Black woman, period. Sadly, that wouldn’t be the last time I’d witness or hear the separation of Black from the word.
With Afro-Latinidad in the spotlight, some, who wouldn’t otherwise use the term, have now taken the opportunity to identify as such. As someone who has had my identity policed, I’d never want to inflict that upon others. However, with a term that’s designed to affirm Africanness and made to create space for those who have been intentionally erased, if you use it, you’re acknowledging your Blackness. So for those who wouldn’t otherwise identify as Black, why use the term?
Some are doing so for capitalistic purposes, some to create a seperate, not equal class of Black, and others to take up more space when they’ve already had space amidst the “majority,” but whatever the reason, it doesn’t sit well with me.
It’s prompted me to get really clear on why I used the term, and if I felt it still resonated with me. As I’ve reflected on my why, I’ve had conversations with friends and activists alike to hear their view on identity and which term they feel most resonates.
“I identify as Black…Yo soy negro,” shares Major Nesby, an Afro-Dominican multidisciplinary creative. The content creator and correspondent agrees that the use of the term Afro-Latinx has moved away from its intended purpose.
“At the root of it is you accepting that you’re Black, and to say you’re Afro-Latino does not mean you’re spicy Black or you’re special Black. It’s to say that you ended up through colonialism in Latin America, or you have some connection to Latin America through some way, but you’re still Black.”
Similar to Major, I now use the term negra. I still use Afro-Latina, mainly for convenience purposes, but I’ve moved away from it over the past year or so. I’ve also chosen terms like Black Latina and Afrodescendant, which was recognized by community leaders, social activists and scholars in 2001 at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. The latter, in particular, affirms transnational connections and acknowledges the cultural connection to the continent.
Many of the terms, including Latino/a, we use today were created (or influenced) by those who’ve colonized us. In using the term negra, or afrodescendiente, I’m choosing to without a doubt center Blackness.
Identity isn’t clear cut. It’s complex and multilayered. As I journey through life, just as my current experiences influence how I identify, new encounters and knowledge will further shape it. No matter which term I use, my pride in my African roots will forever be a constant.
Let there be no confusion as to who I am: a Black woman. In the eternal words of Victoria Santa Cruz, “Sí, soy negra. Negra soy.”