I am Black. I am Latina. These are undeniable facts about my identity.
I remember when my family and I migrated to the United States from Colombia in 2004. At 12 years old, I spoke no English and was immediately put in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes with the other immigrants and children of immigrants. Most vividly, I remember the long bus rides to another school after lunch because our middle school didn’t offer classes for students like us. The ride cost us an hour of education, but gave us the space to develop beautiful friendships transcending language barriers.
I also remember the countless times I was asked, “Why do you speak Spanish if you are Black? How can you be Latina if you’re Black?” At 12 years old, I didn’t have an answer. I just knew that I existed, that my family existed, and that there were millions of people like me back in Colombia. Now at 28 years old, I am still asked the same questions. However, not only do I have an answer but also a fire within to fight for recognition of Afro-Latinos’ contributions to society in Latin America and in the United States as well as for representation in the spaces we have been historically locked out of.
So how am I Black and Latina? The answer is both simple and complex.
The simple answer is that like all Latinos, my identity crosses a multitude of intersections that ultimately make me whole. I am Black and I am Latina.
The complex answer expanding from my ancestors’ lifetime to mine (and would realistically take me forever to give), is that Afro-Latinos have a rich history and culture in Latin America. From the first ship of enslaved Africans arriving in Brazil in 1526, to San Basilio de Palenque in Colombia – the first town of free Africans in the Americas formed in 1691, to today’s San Pacho Festival in Choco and the Petronio Alvarez Music Festival in Cali, Afro-Latinidad is vast and beautiful. It is salsa Cubana, Puertorriqueña, y Colombiana. It is Felipe Luciano’s activism in the 1960s in New York. It is Luz Argentina Chiriboga’s novels, poems, and essays on cultural identity and womanhood.
For me, there is no separating these aspects of my identity. I do not know a world in which I am not Black, Latina, and an immigrant. Consequently, it is impossible for me not to fight for social justice for Black people and Latinos across all the intersections that we cross, particularly at this moment in time when our safety and wellbeing continue to be threatened by racism and xenophobia. My vision for our fight for justice and equity is that we remember that there is strength in numbers. Together we will overcome injustice and lead long-lasting systemic change
Written by Camila Andrea Mena, LCF Program & Data Fellow