This post was written by Grace Dunzo, student. Grace is a first-year who is double majoring in environmental studies and international relations. In her free time, she has enjoys writing, swimming, and playing with her dog.
I would like to preface this article with the fact that I am not Afro-Latine, and can only speak from observing, learning, and listening to the community.
Often when discussing American history, specifically African-American history, we outright ignore AfroLatina history, and the culture that comes with it. There are a number of reasons why we do this, both systematically and individually. Systematically, it is easier to oppress a group if we simply ignore their existence. There is no need to teach their history, language, and culture if they don’t exist. There is no need to acknowledge the oppression and erasure they have faced if there is no official documentation for their being. For example, a large part of the Atlantic slave trade existed and thrived within Central and South America, so in consequence Afro-Latines have existed for hundreds of years. Yet they’re rarely discussed in media. This erasure of their history and culture has forced them to fight for confirmation of their own existence, in education systems, history courses, and in government and personal identification.
The Treaty of Guadalupe, which was signed following the Mexican American War, guaranteed citizenship for all Mexicans that occupied the territory that the U.S. acquired during the war. It also guaranteed the protection of their land, language, and religion. But the U.S. blatantly violated this multiple times, preventing many from voting or getting jobs, leaving many in these areas in such a state of economic distress that they were forced to sell the land that was supposed to be protected. At the time, who was considered a citizen was relative to their “whiteness” so Latines with darker features, or different hair patterns, would be disqualified from citizenship, despite it being promised in the treaty. This left many Latines and Afro-Latines communities in economic distress that has followed through generations, perpetuated by systematic discrimination in voting, employment, education, housing, and welfare programs, particularly in areas that used to be part of Mexico, like California.
Los Angeles was partly founded by Afro-Latines, and because it was part of Mexico before the Mexican-American war, there is a long and rich history of Latinos and Afro-Latinos within the government. Yet, when learning about Los Angeles’s creation, we very rarely hear this perspective. This systematic, and cultural erasure of an entire group of people, perpetuates oppression and colonist ideals, even within such a liberal sector of Los Angeles.
When listening to the experiences of the panelists from the AfroLatines in Los Angeles panel, there was a lot of talk about the feeling of not belonging to either racial identity. This idea of feeling excluded from both identities is not exclusive to Afro-Latines, but a common theme among mixed race individuals. In many discussions regarding race, but specifically American discussions around race and identity, there is often a desire to categorize things in a very binary, black and white sense. We do this in the media, in conversations, and even in the census. The Mexican Census did not even have Afro-Latines as a category available for citizens to check until 2020, despite the large amount of Africans that were in Mexico because of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Afro-Latines on the panel expressed the frustration of the question “what are you?” that they heard frequently in their childhood and throughout adulthood. When this question isn’t met with an answer that “fits,” they are often forced into a box because it’s “easier,” even if it does not completely encompass the individual’s identity. One of the panelists for this event, Sharron Cruz, expressed this frustration by saying that she often felt “Too black to be Latina, and too Latina to be Black.”
There was a common feeling of having different “qualifications” to be included in either racial group. For example, if you did not speak Spanish, you would be considered “not Latina enough,” or if your features were darker, you might be considered lesser than. Throughout history we have favored lighter features, because they are closer to European beauty standards, and these ideals are still very prominent and harmful today to youth minorities as their identities are forming. What we need as a society is not only more spaces that facilitate and promote inclusion, but also the elimination of the need to put everyone into racially categorized boxes. By doing this, we exclude many who don’t fit neatly into the boxes we create, and we force them to choose one piece of their identity, and ignore another.
AfroLatines in Los Angeles [Exhibition]. (2023). William H. Hannon Library. Los Angeles California, United States. https://librarynews.lmu.edu/2023/09/afrolatines-in-los-angeles-unveiling-voices-empowering-communities/
Menchaca, Martha. “Chicano Indianism: A Historical Account of Racial Repression in The …” Jstor , 1993, www.jstor.org/stable/646643.