Let's Talk About: The Diversity of Afro Identity
I recently watched a video on the rise of Afro-Latino culture. The woman that was speaking on the topic had pecan-brown skin, dark springy hair that had strands of gold and amber and wide-set dark eyes, that were full of reproach. She was expressing her frustration on why there are so many people who don’t consider, or even think about, Afro-Latinx as its own standing race and not mutually exclusive. The subject really got me thinking about the various black ethnicities throughout the globe. About how there are so many people who are unaware of the possibilities when it comes to race identity and that I could honestly probably be looped into that uneducated crowd.
A good starting point would be to understand the difference between ethnicity, nationality and race.
So African American Ethnicity would differ greatly from, lets say, a Senegalese native. Putting aside the many years of dilution and blending of cultures after 1619, there’s a reason blacks from America are called African Americans and our more native counterparts are called Africans. One of my Nigerian friends from Murcia, Spain once told me that some Africans didn’t particularly like African Americans. They explained to me that they thought our culture was tacky and uninhibited. That our fashion sense was derogatory and that we speak in a choppy and unintelligent manner. Needless to say, I was a bit taken aback. Did it mean they looked down on us because we’ve created this defined subculture that’s been handed down for generations? Did they disapprove of our reluctant adaptation after we were brought over in slave ships in cast iron shackles? I didn’t think there was anything to be disappointed about. We survived and still are surviving. I had to shake the comment off because who was I to break down the opinions of someone who lives another reality thousands of miles away? I wonder if the Afro-Latino population of the world run into the same issues when compared to indigenous Africans.
In the article “Too Latina To Be Black, To Black To Be Latina,” author Aleichia Williams says, “Even now as an adult I find people are constantly trying to restrict me into a specific mold and identity. My home language is Spanish so this must mean I eat tacos. I have kinky hair so this must mean I bang to Meek Mill. For many, I am too black to be Latin and too Latin to be black.” There are Afro-Latinos, Afro-Argentines, Afro-Brazilians, Afro-Cubans, the list can go on. African culture throughout the years has greatly influenced Central and Latin American countries. Over the centuries blacks have passed down their original contributions to the cultural mix and that, in turn, had a deep influence in Latin America and the Caribbean. Strong African influences are found in music, dance, the arts, literature, speech forms and even religious practices. Author of Racial Subordination in Latin America Tanya Kateri Hernandez says “Afro-Latino/a identity is a contested terrain in which self identified Afro-Latino/as are viewed as Anglo-Blacks, not ‘authentic’ Latinos.”
Which brings me to my next topic:
Nationality is membership in a particular nation.
I find myself always having to explain why I have no idea where my ancestral line originates when I tell people in Spain that I am from the U.S and not Africa. It’s pretty clear it leads back to Africa but when Spaniards and Africans alike ask me specifics I have to shrug my shoulders and apologetically mumble “No lo sé.” I have some ideas though. Most African Americans descend from West or Central Africa so maybe I should choose a country and claim it. Kidding. But in the near future, I would like to take take one of those blood-tests and find out how far back my lineage goes and where it goes.
As for my nationality, I am an American. Through and through. But I wonder how many generations back my family really goes in America. Let’s say a girl is born in the U.S. Her entire family is from Cuba and she is first generation American born. Although her parents are Afro-Cuban by ethnicity and nationality, she is an Afro-Cuban with American nationality.
A mouthful isn’t it? And it’s probably one of the coolest and most beautiful melanin combinations out there to be honest.
Now what the heck is race?
According to Webster's Dictionary it sites that race is ,
a : a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics or
b : a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits.
Honestly, understanding race is a little tricky because it always coincides or relates to ethnicity in some way. I feel like it’s a broad, undefined, scope of a word that really doesn’t latch onto a true meaning. I always stumble a little when I’m getting down with some friendly cultural debate and the subject skits across race/ethnicity differences.
And blacks in Spain?
According to an article, “Spain has about 683,000 African descent. 1.5% of the population, just over 10% of foreigners according to the High Council of Black Communities (Alto Consejo de las Comunidades Negras). This exponential growth is most striking: in 1998 they were no more than 77,000. And just last year, about 7,500 descendants of Africans were born in the Spanish territory.” Many blacks born in Spain are mistaken as immigrants to the country. I’ve had old Spanish men shake their heads rapidly and turn away when I walk up to simply ask for directions. Maybe it’s because I have horrible timing or perhaps it was because they believed I was trying to sell them something, an occupation a majority of African immigrants have in Spain.
Although I am definitely a foreigner, I am a foreigner from America.
When this is realized, there’s sometimes an entire 360 shift in the way some Spaniards respond to me. It’s a pretty defining experience when it happens and it makes me feel like there is a growing cultural and ethnic rift between Africans in Spain and African Americans who travel to Spain. When I have to go get my hair done or find African hair products in Spain I usually find someone with African descent to fix the disaster that is my hair. I’ve done it so many times now that I can understand the thick African (usually Senegalese or Nigerian)/Castellano accent. Understanding Spanish is hard enough, now throw in the thick lispy accent of Castellano paired with an African lilt. Communication gets a little bit muddy, but I always really enjoy the hair trips because I learn so much about African culture and sometimes even make new friends in the process.
There’s just so much rich history and unknowns when it comes to African heritage around the world. African cultural contributions and tradition have been passed down for hundreds of years and still continue to yet.
Coming from the South, it was sometimes difficult to embrace my ‘blackness.’ Sometimes I would carry conflicting emotions of pride masked with a bit of uncertainty and shame because I didn’t feel from the surrounding community that it was something to be unapologetically celebrated. Since moving abroad my perception has changed significantly. I’ve seen the beauty of Africans from all over the world and I’ve adopted a entirely new sense of understanding and acceptance for my melanin roots.
Kala is a proud and true southern girl and alumni of Indiana University, Bloomington. Dedicated and curious world traveler with an aptitude for engaging in conversation with anyone who's willing to listen. Listening to music, riding horses and laying on the beach is some of her favorite past times. Hand her a violin and she'll play you a nice and complicated little tune, with a beer on the table beside her. She is a writer, broadcast journalist, musician and 'enjoyment of life' enthusiast. Follow her on instagram @kala_kz