What’s your race/nationality/ethnicity? (whatever you would like to share)
I’m black, I identify as half-Bajan, or from Barbados, and half Dominican. Yeah, that’s about it.
Would you identify as Afro-Latino?
I feel like for me it depends, I don’t know, some days I feel like I’m more black than anything, but I guess like, in my lifetime I’ve identified more with my blackness I guess, rather than my Dominican heritage or whatever. So like, I like the definition of Afro-Latino and I feel like it’s an important distinction, but sometimes I do feel like I am not in that Latino profile.
What sways you towards one side or the other?
So my dad’s from DR (Dominican Republic) and he is a very pro-Black type, that’s just kind of like how his feelings are. He grew up in the time of Trujillo, who is the dictator that killed a lot of Haitian Dominicans or dark-skinned Dominicans. My dad is fairly light-skinned so he was okay or whatever, but he also was seeing the terror that happened in the country at the time, as well as what his parents and grandparents talked about. He wasn’t kind of like in support of that. He hated it to the point where like I wasn’t, me and my siblings weren’t allowed to speak Spanish in the house or stuff like that. So he’s very much like, he tried to remove himself from Dominican-ness, and that has been dropped onto us. I feel like there is some type of acknowledgment for family and not for the country, it’s like your family is from here. And we visited, last time I visited I think I was 12, so we make sure to stay connected with family but less so a connection with the country.
So you’re saying that you don’t identify with this at all, or when you do is it on your own accord?
I feel like it’s on my own accord, I feel like it’s kind of. It’s hard to describe for me honestly, because at the same time I know I have Dominican blood but it’s really tough for me to be okay with it. There’s so many problematic things with that country as well as like even here in America, my community is pretty much Puerto Rican, Dominican, or Jamaican… I don’t know it was kind of tough saying you were a black Dominican in that area, because it felt like you had to be tested, your Dominican-ness had to be tested, like do you know blah blah blah? Is your family from blah blah blah? Your family can’t be from Santiago because that’s where all of the light skinned people are from? Technically my dad is light skinned, but there’s this weird problem with colorism and saying “I’m more light skin” or “I’m more dark skin” and it’s like we’re all black. If some guy from Spain came to the DR and I looked at us, all of us, he would call us black. And that’s something my dad would teach me about, and tell me about, because when I was younger, my elementary school was pretty much half-Dominican, half-Puerto Rican. I remember talking to my dad about, I forgot, it was some argument with some Puerto Rican kids, and my dad was like you guys are all black, because when someone from Spain blah blah blah… he was very much like you’re black first and he’s helped me distance the whole Dominican-ness. It’s really confusing, I’ve never really talked about this whole identity thing but it’s just that I know for sure like, with the whole claiming of Afro-Latino– and I feel like Afro-Latino has only been a thing for me, or a term that I’ve acknowledged until like I’ve reached college. I’ve never really thought of it as something that I could identify with, you know there are checkboxes on your standardized test. I’ve always just chosen black and been like I’m going to go with that, and just do my thing, and do this test or whatever. I feel like… I’ve taken a couple of Latino studies courses and I’ve been able to learn a little bit more of what it’s like to be Afro-Latino and some of the struggles I can easily identify with so yeah, pretty much just on my own accord. I’m still just trying to like… not really fit it… but have it connect with my life. Afro-Latino is pretty like a new term for me, and I’m still learning it I guess, that’s the best way to say it.
You’re saying that as a black person you usually find yourself dissociating with the Dominican side, and with the example that you told me in elementary school, the Puerto Ricans were the ones dissociating with their black side, why do you think that is? What differs in your case?
Um.. both Puerto Ricans and Dominicans distance themselves from the African or black side for sure, because I know in Dominican culture it’s an insult if someone called you Haitian. Like if someone was dark enough and they’re like “Oh like you’re Haitian” and that’s literally the worst [insult], that’s literally like saying you wish [their] mom drank bleach or something. And it’s such a terrible thing, you know? I remember like even when I was younger and I was pretty ignorant, and someone would be like “is your family from Haiti?” and I was like “who are you talking to? That’s not true? My family isn’t from Haiti.” Yeah, so I feel like both Puerto Ricans and Dominicans distance themselves from blackness in general, and I feel like it was a lot more on the Dominican side because we share an island with Haiti and there has been so much conflict on the island of Hispaniola, and I think there was a point in time when Haiti occupied DR for a little bit. So there are a lot of negative feelings that DR has towards Haiti and Haitians, especially… Haitian-Dominicans are Dominicans of Haitian ancestry on the borderlands, so a big thing is if someone calls you Haitian and you’re of Dominican ancestry, that causes fights like real fast. I forgot the second part of your question.
How does your case differ from that? Your case is the exact opposite. In most cases people who are Latino or Afro-Latino aren’t acknowledging that they’re black but in your case, you’re not acknowledging the fact that you’re Latino? I guess that all goes back to your dad?
Yeah that’s like mostly… my dad was very strict and I know one time my sister got in a lot of trouble for speaking Spanish in the house and he was just not for it. When I was younger, I was just like she’s just studying for a Spanish test, but for my dad it came with a lot of baggage and a lot of historical stuff because he lived through some of it, what happened then. He wasn’t really old at that time but he knew some of it from his parents and like whatever. So it was very easy for me to distance myself from the Latino side, and I have more family from the Barbados where I’m from, so it was very easy for me to connect with that side of the family because there were so many of us [there], and my grandparents from my dad’s side are both in the DR and I only saw them every once in awhile. It got to the point where we stopped visiting, not really stopped on purpose but it’s been awhile since we’ve visited. Last time I did was maybe 9 years ago. My case is pretty interesting, and I feel like me and my siblings have a very unique case where yeah, we have Dominican in our family, we have a number of Dominicans in our family, but like we don’t identify as closely with it as other people, it’ll be switched around for others. Actually, no, I’ve seen it with some of my other friends, like I have some friends from Honduras, but I guess they’re also mixed because I know one of my friends, her dad is from Jamaica– her mom is from Honduras, her dad is from Jamaica, so it’s like kind of the same way actually. But not negative where she wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish, it was just like… it just happened that way where she was more associated with her blackness. As well as like, I feel like people I’ve met from the Honduras, there’s not that kind of internalized racism where it’s like… I mean DR is also predominantly black regardless but– I guess when Dominicans see themselves as Dominican, they don’t consider themselves as black. It’s not really a race, I don’t know how to describe… They’re Dominican first and I don’t think they’ll ever acknowledge being black. It’s very similar… like Boston has a huge Cape Verdean population as well, and like a lot of Cape Verdeans that I know don’t associate themselves as being black, they say no I’m not black, I’m Cape Verdean. It’s kind of like the same way Dominicans identify themselves, like “Oh, I’m not black, I’m Dominican. What are you talking about?” That’s been my experience, I don’t know if it’s different from other neighborhoods in, I don’t know, say New York or whatever. But, that’s what I’ve experienced or witnessed.I don’t know, I guess I’m pretty unique, my family situation is very unique about that, but if you look at other Central American countries that have just a high black population, it’s drastically different. I have a good number of friends from Honduras and Panama and they consider themselves black before… I feel like that’s kind of a thing where they know the history of the Panama Canal and how some of their ancestors traveled from some Caribbean country to work on the canal. Um, yeah.
I feel like a lot of the people that you are describing can identify as Afro-Latino, I just feel like the word isn’t widespread enough for people to start using it… and if it was, I’m not sure if people would use it because everyone is so set in their ways… Do you think that there is a difference between being mixed, Black and Latino, and being Afro-Latino, in the eyes of certain people? Like how you were saying some of your friends are mixed and you’re mixed. So do you think that the fact that you’re mixed kind of detracts from you wanting to identify with that as well?
This is like another thing with the whole “blackness” thing, but like I’ve never considered myself as mixed, I’ll be like… my mom’s darker skinned and my dad’s lighter skinned but we’re all black so it’s like whatever. And that’s kind of how I’ve viewed it, I’ve actually never thought of myself as mixed before. I just knew that my parents’ families came from different islands. I don’t know… Damn, I’ve never thought about being mixed. *laughing* Having an identity crisis. What was the other part of the question? You were saying like…
Well I don’t think it’s applicable if you don’t identify yourself as mixed… I mean based on the definition that I know of “mixed,” you’re mixed with two different races from two different islands. Even if you consider them to be the same…
Yeah, I’ve always considered them to be the same. I always thought mixed was like White/Asian or like Black/White but I’ve never thought of it like…
Like two similar countries?
Yeah, I don’t know. I guess that’s easy to do.
Yeah, I’ve always thought that Barbados and the DR were very different…?
Yeah, they are very different. They speak different languages. Barbados doesn’t have that whole internalized issue or anything like that.
That’s very interesting, I’m sorry for popping that up on you. I have one last question, if you could give a concrete, or not so concrete, definition of what being Afro-Latino is, what would it be?
Okay. I would say like being of, or like… damn.
For me it’s hard to describe Afro-Latino without it sounding like mixed.
That’s exactly what I’m having trouble with, because it’s like damn that sounds like it’s mixed as opposed to people of African descent that live in… that’s where it becomes weird. I don’t know… because I feel like Afro-Latinos are entitled to the Latino label and I feel like if you just say like there’s a separation of Afro-Latinos… it just seems like they are not granted the same like… damn. Damn, I’ve never like thought… Okay, so by saying that they’re of African descent and that they just so happen to be living in Latino countries is like… it just seems like they’re occupying the space that they don’t belong to…
Kind of displacing them and stripping the culture away from them basically?
Yeah, exactly. So there’s like some danger in saying that. Yeah, so there’s some danger in like separating the two and making it seem like a lot of Afro-Latinos are just occupying the space and that’s not true, you know? Because they have large contributions to… I mean if you look at most of the dances in both the DR or Puerto Rico and the drums that they use is like based off of West African traditions. They have a huge influence on those Latino countries and it’s not fair to say “Oh, they’re just slaves that have so happened to come off on my island.” So, to define it would be tough…but the problem is the definition that many people have on the outside is that they are just of African descent and live in these Latino countries. It should be more of… something that’s more encompassing and includes both Latino and African cultures. So even with that definition, I would say that Dominicans are Afro-Latino… That’s just me being idealistic. Instead of them saying, I’m mixed with this and this and this… it sounds mad ignorant. I don’t know. I’m going down a weird path. I just feel like there’s like a large element of like Africanism in Dominican culture and society and it sucks that it’s being repressed, and also oppressed where because of the shade of your skin, it could put you in trouble or cause you to lose your citizenship. Stuff like that. I’ve never really created a formal definition for Afro-Latino but I will say it’s dangerous to separate the two or have it seem like it’s only people of African descent who occupy Latino lands when it’s… there’s more of an intertwined relationship.