Beyond Representation: 8 Afro-Latinxs on Taking Control of Their Narratives Under Trump

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For many Americans, Donald Trump’s election to the presidency was a wake up call. His attacks on immigrants, his promises to cut arts and environmental protection funding, and his blatant racist policies have opened people’s eyes to the xenophobia that many leaders and organizers in communities of color have long been aware of. Even within communities of color, our political context has prompted some uncomfortable reckonings with colorism, colonial mentalities, Islamophobia, homophobia, and more.

But even before Trump’s swearing in, outspoken Black Latinxs have prompted conversations around the historic invisibility of Afro-Latinxs, a population whose intersecting identities – black, Latinx, immigrant, queer, femme – often make us especially vulnerable under a Trump administration.

After centuries of marginalization, simply highlighting our existence in media narratives seems like a step forward and an act of resistance. Still, much of the conversation on Afro-Latinidad doesn’t push further than facile “OMG! You can be Black AND Latino?” narratives. As activist Dorothy Bell Ferrer reminds us, we cannot stop there.

The current conversation highlighting the existence of people of black descent in Latin America in the US and Latin America is important and powerful. Yet at a time when diversity and inclusion have become trendy clickbait fodder, empty representation risks turning our identity into a feel-good way to feel like we’re moving forward, even as structural inequality remains intact. It’s nice to see people who look like me represented on TV, but having a black Latina on Univision will not ensure my liberation.

Afrodescendientes from Latin America must also be involved in telling our own stories, and protecting our identities from being turned into marketing tools that we don’t stand to benefit from. We must recognize our place in the fight for #BlackLivesMatter, reproductive rights for all, healthcare and equal pay, and many other luchas that intersect with our lives.

I reached out to Afro-Latinx leaders, fighters, artists and activists to ask for their thoughts on the current state of the country, particularly as it relates to their work or their personal lives. From immigration to the need for joy in resisting, this is what they had to say.

Cristobal Guerra, photographer & co-organizer of Papi Juice, a QTPOC party based in NYC

Photo: Stephanie Segura

“There is a real need to complicate the conversations we are having with each other. Living within a system that boxes [in] our identities and punishes us for them at the same time, we need space to understand the differences in our struggles, the immediacy of our needs, the similarities in our collective fear. Let’s cultivate joy when everything tells us there should be fear, invest in work and ideas that represent us and our lived experience. Invest in each other. Progress as a linear structure is nothing but a neo-liberal lie, we exist outside those paradigms, and in that empty space we can create so much with the vastness of our culture and collective power. So many of us have been navigating black, Caribbean, queer identities in this polarizing country for so long, se puede y se puede mas. We are nothing if not a sea of possibilities, if we cultivate more IRL spaces where we can engage with that, I think we’ll come up with some effective tools to get out of this mess.”

Aiko, LA-based undocumented Afro-Mexicana

“As an undocumented AfroMexican, the communities of color I have lived in throughout my time in the U.S. have been subjected to high surveillance and criminalization on an everyday basis. With the result of the election, those with vast privileges were confronted with the a fear that has always been present in communities of color. The attacks against communities of color that this administrations is implementing are not new. In fact, previous presidents have each facilitated mechanisms that have allowed this administration to continue the invisible war against people of color. Just as these attacks in communities of color are not new, the response of resistance and perseverance that runs through our veins is not new. This is the time where those in privileged positions can help $upport and show up for those most affected and targeted by avidly participating in the resistance led by communities of color.”

Paula Ramirez, Bronx-based poet and educator

“The shame and fear that has beguiled us through the Trump administration has reemphasized what I have been trying to live against for the better part of my adult life. It is now also in the burden of whiteness, where fear ultimately lies, that I find myself stronger than ever. It has always been my belief that to be a Black Borinquen woman, meant that I was to anticipate a lifetime of fighting against forces which were created to actively keep me oppressed. Now with the recent shenanigans of Trump’s administration and the ideological attack on humanity as a whole, I am relieved that I have found comrades and accomplices in the fight for our lives.”

Emmanuel Pardilla, Bronx-based tenant organizer

“I do tenant organizing. Today, we see the way that gentrification is affecting our community. For example, there’s a lot of AfroDominicans, Mexicans and West Africans all over Jerome Ave in the Bronx working in the auto-industry, many whom are being pushed out. Many of these are people are also undocumented. There is also a Boricua population there as well. Our mayor who is championing a progressive administration, one against Donald Trump and supposedly in the interest of the people is actually pushing out these Afro-Dominicans and other communities of color without a plan of relocation. The subject of immigration is something that cannot be understood and ought to be contextualized within the paradigm of history. There were dictatorships throughout Latin America sponsored by US corporations. Many of our people fled that situation and came here to become socially mobile to help support the growth and sustenance of their families. We fled our country because they took it from us politically, economically and socially. And here, where, we have no other place to go, we face displacement, and gentrification. I see there being a movement towards building a union that can fight our displacement.”

Janel Martinez, founder of "Ain't I Latina? blog

“While discrimination, racism, prejudice, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the like have always existed in the U.S., Trump has created a space for public display and open support of these hateful ideologies today. To be Black Latinx has always meant, for me, to be a living embodiment of resistance and pride. With the current administration, that still exists, but it means that we’ll have to resist even more, protect our rights, our families, our people and marginalized people even more. Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about what that looks like in under this administration. I’m using my platform – Ain’t I Latina? – to educate people on their rights and spreading resources, especially on social media. I’m also encouraging folks to take care of themselves. Self-care is vital because the negativity and hate is exhausting, but we have to remain ready.”

Zoila A. Del Villar, pre-doctoral research fellow and youth counselor.

“My life has always been a struggle, nothing for me has changed except for the way the white people around me view the world. Nothing has changed for me. Am I still going to speak about white supremacy? Yes! Am I still going to organize young people? Yes! I work running groups with high school students in poverty-impacted communities, and I process life with them where they can’t process life with other adults without being censored or disrupted. I knew this was going to happen politically. My only concern is that because we live in such a binary state, I fear for my daughter. My fear is that she will be stuck in having to choose if we ever move outside of New York City, my daughter will be the only ethnic black girl – she’s not American, she’s Haitian, Cuban, and Dominican. There’s a lot of Latinas who feel they have to choose between being black or white, there’s no spectrum. I don’t ever want my daughter to feel like she has choose white.”

Alex Hardy, Essayist, freelance copywriter & cultural critic.

“As a Black creative who observes and comments on the world via writing and speaking, self-preservation is paramount in the fight to save the world from the Tangerine Terrorist’s shitty reign. It can be exhausting to take in, process, and react to each new act of terribleness, so I encourage people—especially in the age of 24-hour news updates and straight-faced alternative facts—to disconnect when necessary. Don’t feel bad for unplugging and chilling the hell out. You can still be woke and fight the good fight without investing emotionally in and being consumed by each new tragedy or injustice. Whether that means deleting social media apps from your phone, turning off notifications, or not jumping into Microsoft Word every time That Man ruins something, know there’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to breathe and focusing on getting or keeping your mind right.”

Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, Brooklyn-based artist, educator & community organizer.

“I worry about our rights under siege; about the families that wake up in fear each day, feeling unsafe, unheard, and unprotected; and about the dissemination of fictitious messaging that convinces us we are divided. My hope is that our trust in each other and our confidence in the power of our united communities will eclipse the hate and terror that one man is brewing in our country. As a community organizer in the arts, much of my work centers on amplifying the work that always has, and continues to unfold in communities across Brooklyn. I work with community leaders, activists, educators and citizens to design creative ways to weave on-the-ground concerns into the dialogues taking place within (and on) the walls of our museums and cultural institutions. I move with a deep appreciation for all of our contributions, and with a profound purpose to make space for each of our voices.”