afro-latino Archives - The Jose Vilson


Afro-Latinos and The Power of And

by Jose Vilson on August 5, 2013

in Jose



Today, I had a conversation with Amilcar Priestly of the Proyecto Afro-Latin@ about Afro-Latino identity and what it meant for me as an educator and writer. As we started talking, I came to a harsh realization about my background: I tried too hard to belong.

I taught myself how to read in Spanish, and probably should have worked harder at writing and speaking Spanish, too. I also found ways to incorporate merengue and bachata into my music playlist, and inquired about every single artist that blasted out of my stepfather’s stereo. I ate all the foods, familiarized myself with the latest “Dominican” terms and even added a few extra steps into my dancing.

While a part of me thought I was just trying to have fun and show my pride for my heritage, perhaps a larger part of me fell into what’s now known as “stereotype threat,” a psychological nervousness where we might confirm a negative attribute about a specific social group. For instance, women might get nervous before a math test because the proctor will say “men tend to do better on this exam than women.” Another example is giving African-Americans a reasoning test and, due to their own conceptions about the test, will do worse even when they know all the material as compared to other groups.

Sometimes, when we try to overcompensate for how some circles perceive our standing in our circle, Afro-Latinos (like me) do a disservice to all that we are and understand about ourselves.

Often, some of our circles only want to identify themselves as “Black” or “Latino.” Other times, they identify with their nationalities like “Colombian,” “Costa Rican,” or “Panamanian.” Any of these labels are fine, I guess. With Afro-Latinos, many of us see ourselves as towing the line between what this country perceives as “Black” or “Latino,” so often we’re either in between or nowhere in this odd spectrum. We get caught up in these Black or Latino dichotomies, where we’re not “something enough,” even though we hang out with that social group 80% of the time.

This seems especially true with Latinos, whose countries often define race a bit differently than this country does. As such, we may phenotypically look like we’re of strictly African descent, until we open our mouths with a Latino accent. Some of us take it a few steps further. We might speak in Spanish to jar unsuspecting haters. We might get up to dance the one Latino song at a wedding just to put people on notice.

Some of it might be exuberance. Some of it might be a rebellion against people’s perceptions. Let’s embrace that.

We can teach future generations to embrace their cultures better by understanding the power of “and.” Not just the “… and?” after someone pisses us off for the umpteenth time after we tell them our cultural background. It’s the “and” that says, “We are all these things.” We can loudly proclaim some connection to the African diaspora and understand our experience here. We can look at the commonalities and familiarities with our families’ experiences all over the Americas.

We can teach our kids, specifically our Latino kids, that their hair is just fine for them. Not bad. Not good.

In the meantime, we need to make ourselves more visible and more knowledgeable. With a little more and.


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U Black, Maybe [AfroLatino, Part Two]

by Jose Vilson on September 19, 2011

in Jose

Mario Morales, AfroLatino

When we talk about black maybe
We talk about situations
Of people of color and because you are that color
You endure obstacles and opposition
And not all the time from … from other nationalities
Sometimes it comes from your own kind
Or maybe even your own mind
You get judged … you get laughed at…you get looked at wrong
You get sighted for not being strong
The struggle of just being you
The struggle of just being us…black maybe

- Common, “U Black, Maybe”

There’s something about being AfroLatino that people don’t quite understand. There’s an understanding of seeing race and culture as these malleable things that far too many people can’t always comprehend. Self-identity as a process complicates relationships, because whenever you think you have yourself figured out, others’ perceptions of you interfere with the mold you’ve already decided for yourself. They probe, poke, talk, whisper, yell, ask too many damn questions, and you’re asked to answer them as if you’re the representative of everyone in this self-identifying category. In general, people compromise on the intersection of race as a perception of self and a perception of someone else.

That’s why AfroLatinos get aggravated the most. People who consider themselves of one definite race never understand the emphasis of such a title. Many White people think it’s an intimidating title assuring the dominant culture that they won’t conform to their simplistic racial structures. Whether the reason they’re intimidated is because of the Afro or Latino remains to be seen. Many Black people, on the other hand, see the term AfroLatino as a way for people from Latin America to ostracize if not banish their African roots in favor of the Spaniard colonizers’ blood. Of course, I question whether people never noticed that the title “AfroLatino” puts Black first, and “Latino” isn’t the same as Spanish.

But it seems that, for many, speaking Spanish and being Spanish are exactly the same thing.

As we speak, people question whether such a title dilutes or disbands people of color in certain struggles for equity. To that end, I have four things to say. First, AfroLatino for almost everyone I know almost always means an inclusion and understanding of all the parts they represent and the histories that come with our origins. Secondly, we usually do this against the wishes and nudges of our last generation’s countries of origin (i.e. Dominican Republic, Mexico, Brazil), accentuating our Blackness as we grow. Third, we as a whole have to do better in finding characteristics of our race and culture without highlighting the negatives exclusively, because we’re allowed to smile against those odds and should continue to do so.

Fourth, one of the greatest African-American cultural researchers and scholars happened to be an AfroLatino: Arturo Schomburg. Not ironically, the public library and museum named after him are a few blocks away from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and on Malcolm X Boulevard right in the middle of USA’s original Black Mecca: Harlem. During his time on this Earth, people of his own kind belittled the contributions he made to the cultural movement, but now people recognize what he’s done not just for people of color in this country, for an entire nation.

Afro-Latino is a term of unity, an umbrella under which we invite people to contribute the best of their culture and progress past the titles set for us under rules we didn’t create but perpetuate. I can be Latino and Black at the same time, because my contributions to both cultures may not be enumerated or listed.

It’s tough enough just being ourselves when people want us to conform to their order. While people may point to outside factors for their own identification, I assure you my revolution is much more personal.

Mr. Vilson, who will have more to say by mañana …

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Living Quisqueya

by Jose Vilson on April 19, 2011

in Jose

This past weekend, I spent some time with my Dominican parents. To be specific, my Dominican mother and stepfather, both of whom enjoy the Dominican satellite channels offered on Time Warner Cable. They’ll watch shows rooted in guttural comedy, scantily-clad voluptuous women, and nationalism sprinkled throughout the programming. They laugh, shake, dance, and yell at the television, even when the situation doesn’t call for it. My parents respond to the automatic trigger of the palm trees, the beige dust rising after Passats sweep by the rocks of the highways. I’m shaken by images of lighter complexions featured within the studios and darker hues outside of the studio.

Even from far away, their perceptions about Blackness get reinforced by the TV they want to see.

It was only a few years ago that I got my mom to admit her own Blackness. While I don’t believe all Latinos are Black, I find it disingenuous for one of the first colonies in the Western Hemisphere to deny any parts of their Blackness. Much of this was engrained into them by the founders of the national identity, who wanted no part of anything remotely Haitian. It’s as if the duel between Dominican Republic’s founders and Haiti’s founders lies in who wanted to appease their former oppressors. While Haiti celebrates its independence from a European country, Dominican Republic celebrates its independence from its own neighbor. This belief is so prevalent still that even a literal seismic shift in the form of an earthquake couldn’t mend the fences between these two countries.

But I’ve grown weary of trying to tell others that Haitians and Dominicans practically listen to the same music, eat the same foods, and appreciate the same weather. Our flag colors are the same, and many of our traditions descend right from the continent of Africa. I’ve been stuck in between these arguments where people who refuse to accept the others’ side of things, wondering when a people so similar will actually come together and take advantage of the plentiful resources of their own island.

I’m also tired of the lack of responsibility countries like The United States, France, and Spain have played in perpetuating the frictions and tensions in this relationship. While I admit that I don’t know much Kreyol nor have I been to Haiti, I consider myself every bit as Haitian as the next Haitian.

Thus, I commend Henry Louis Gates for the exposure and care he took to document these experience in the first installment of Black in Latin America on PBS. I just wish I knew what to do with all this information. Besides be myself.

Jose, who is black, no maybe …

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Word To The Wise: Make The Words Count

March 15, 2011 Jose
Felipe Luciano At Capicu

The night before my engagement, I had the pleasure of attending Capicu’s Anniversary Show featuring the legendary Felipe Luciano. Anyone who’s read this blog for longer than a few months know how much I admire the former first Chairman of the Young Lords Party and member of the select Last Poets. He was probably my […]

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My Race: Defining The Undefinable

December 6, 2010 Jose
Dominican Republic and Haiti from Space

For those that haven’t pieced it together from the plethora of race essays I’ve written here and elsewhere, I self-identify racially as a Black Latino. I’ve found it’s probably the most appropriate title for this idiosyncratic, deeply political experience I carry. It was probably what I might call the difference between compromising my understanding of […]

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Book Giveaway June 2010: Hija De Mi Madre by Carmen Mojica Fabian

May 26, 2010 Book Giveaway
Hija De Mi Madre by Carmen Mojica

Welcome back to my monthly book giveaway! < insert applause here > One of two books I’m giving away is Carmen Mojica Fabian’s Hija De Mi Madre, a poetry chapbook I’ll soon have on my bookshelf and I suggest others get that as well. I can tell you more about the book, but I’ll let […]

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