After Notes from the AfroLatino Immigration Discussion

Arturo Alfonso ShomburgYesterday afternoon, I attended a panel discussion entitled “Black, Latino, Both” sponsored by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (of which I am now a card carrying member) and el Museo del Barrio, and it took place at Harlem’s Schomburg Center. The panel featured Howard Jordan, Clarence Lusane, Yvette Modestin, Angela Perez, and Silvio Torres-Saillant, who I know from my Syracuse days. While I’m not inclined to discuss exactly who said what, I do have some notes I’d like to share on a rather excellent panel meeting. I’ll definitely have to go over some of these topics again during the week, but for now, these are only some of the great sub-discussions we had at the panel. (I’m trying to take a 2-hour discussion about a topic spanning 500 years into a few paragraphs. Fun.)

– Anyone who’s read my blog for a while or even took a look at my name can pretty much gather what my identity is. Yet, that’s a challenge if you’re simply taking me at face value. Honestly, people don’t know how to act when I reveal my ethnic make-up, and that works two ways: I have an identity I’ve self-developed and people have their own perceptions of what I am. Those are not mutually exclusive of each other. To the contrary, that’s the essence of understanding the race logic: race isn’t about what you see, it’s about what you think you see. And I’ll never be “Black” or “Latino” enough until people really understand what those terms truly mean.

Arturo Schomburg. Carlos Cooks. Felipe Luciano. Men who most people would associate with either Black or Latino, but in actuality, were Black Latinos like myself. I only knew of Felipe back in freshman year of college when I first got to meet him, and the rest of them I didn’t find out until yesterday. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when both communities fail to address AfroLatinos. The names of so many other AfroLatinos who fought for their communities were obscured by their own people, and that’s unfortunate. I know a Black Latino college student-activist back in the day who could have used those role models for community activism.

– People within a certain race are not a monolith. Definitions of what it means to be part of a race change vastly depending on place and time. For instance, Jews and Italians weren’t even considered to be White until decades after coming into this country. In the same way, Blacks and Latinos don’t just have one ideology, one perspective, or one religion. There are certain trends and connections amongst many of these groups, but we don’t all have the same interests at heart, either.

Felipe Luciano– A crucial point of discussion was the evolution of the ethnic make-up of baseball players. For the last decade or two, baseball has become an increasingly Latino sport, though it’s still marketed America’s favorite pastime. Gary Sheffield once said that, despite Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby’s efforts, there are more Latin players than Black players in baseball now because Latin players are easier to control. He elaborated by saying Latino players will get sent back to their countries if they don’t comply, so they have much more to lose. Of course, I agreed with the premise of the argument, as did many of his Latino teammates (those of whom already have their citizenships and paid the Republican Party some dues).

– In connection to that point, there was also a mention of Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez, men who in this country, most would identify as Black men, but when asked, they identify as Dominicansstrictly. While some people may take issue with their identification, I completely understand what these players are talking about. If you’re coming from a completely different racial paradigm than the country you’re visiting, then of course you’re going to strictly identify with your nation. As someone mentioned on the panel, it’s really easy for someone who identifies as a certain group to tell someone else what their race is, without even knowing where that person’s coming from. And that’s not always a good thing.

– Then there’s the issue of immigration, and how it relates to the American workforce. Vicente Fox once sad that Mexicans will take the jobs that Blacks don’t in this country. This is with the premise that either Blacks are lazy, incompetent, or acting too good for a broom and mop. The point disturbed me for a multitude of reasons. The government instills policies for migrant workers that makes them into nothing but rotating slaves. Corporations never have to worry about minimum wage, health benefits, pensions, or anything of that nature for workers who don’t have any rights in this country. Plus, the very people bringing those migrant workers here have agents working to tell working class communities here that immigrants from all around the world are here to take their jobs, so of course on the surface, it’s easy to diminish migrant workers as sub-human.

– Lastly, the one solution for many of our social ills is not through developing some sort of hegemony. Rather, change will come from a multicultural group of concerned citizens. I try to build those coalitions wherever I go, and the results have usually been nothing but positive.

jose, who loves to hear everyone’s opinions on these topics, not just my black or latino brethren