Art by Lauryn Madise (BLACKBOARD)
This article was originally published in BlackBoard’s winter 2020 issue.
Although “Afro-Latinx” is not in the Merriam-Webster dictionary*, the term holds importance for the millions of people who identify with it.
Afro-Latinx Weinberg sophomore* Mychael Torres says that the term revolutionized how she saw herself in her community. “A lot of times, no one knows that I am Cuban because I present Black,” Torres says. “I grew up in a majority Hispanic community but was never a part of it. Once I became aware of my identity, I started viewing my surroundings in a different, more familial way.”
The term Afro-Latinx refers to a person from or of Latin America or Caribbean descent who is also of African descent. It originated in the 1920s and 30s, when the concept of Pan-Africanism allowed those of African descent across the globe to identify with Africa and feel prideful of their Blackness in a world that discriminated against it.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the term Afro-Latino grew in use in the United States. In recent years, the Afro-Latinx population has received
increased recognition, as the Pew Research Center conducted its first survey that focused on Afro-Latinx people in 2016, and Mexico gave the option to identify as Afro-Latino or Black for the first time on its mid-decade survey in 2015.
Torres says she recognized her identity as she began to spend more time with her father’s Latinx family. “They made food I wasn’t familiar with and spoke differently than my Black family,” Torres says. “That’s when I started understanding the difference and importance of my Hispanic heritage.”
According to Pew Research Center’s survey, 24% of the Latinx population in the United States identifies as Afro-Latinx, Afro-Caribbean or of African Descent. Roughly 130 million people of African descent live in Latin America today.
Weinberg sophomore** Vivica Lewis identifies as both Afro-Latina and as mixed race. Lewis says she felt trapped between two worlds when she was younger.
“Some of my earliest memories are of being at stores with my parents and store associates asking if they were my parents or if I knew them,” she says.
Lewis says there was an expectation for her to be knowledgeable in both Black culture and Latinx culture in her majority white classes at school. Yet talking about her racial and ethnic identity with her family helped her gain appreciation of her identity.
“I think my parents exposing me to race conversations and encouraging me to embrace being Afro-Latina made me more confident,” she says.
The terms we use to identify ourselves are just one layer of who we are. Afro-Latinx means that we don’t have to choose one identity or one history to live in.
*But Merriam-Webster does have a definition for Latinx: of, relating to, or marked by Latin American heritage —used as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina
**Sophomores Vivica Lewis and Mychael Torres were first-years at the time of interviewing.