National Hispanic Heritage Month is almost over. And while it’s a great way for Latinx people to share, celebrate, and educate others about their many cultures and customs, Afro-Latinos are still fighting for a seat at the table.
Afro-Latinos make up the vast majority of the Latinx population, with nearly a quarter of all U.S. Latinos identifying as Afro-Latino or black and around 135-140 million Afro-Latinos living throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Despite all this, their cultures are rarely shown on television or in movies. And their experiences are often left out of the conversation of what it means to be Latinx.
Simply put, Afro-Latinos are people who are ethnically Latinx but racially black. According to Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., the vast majority of Africans taken during the transatlantic slave trade ended up in countries like Brazil, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba (to name a few).
He told PBS,
“There were 11.2 million Africans that we can count who survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World, and of that 11.2 million, only 450,000 came to the United States. All the rest went south of Miami as it were.”
Even with these facts, many people are unfamiliar with Afro-Latinx culture and still struggle to comprehend the duality of what it means to be both black and Latinx. In their minds, the two don’t go together when they envision someone of Latinx descent.
And while the representation of light-skinned Latinas has slightly increased over the years with shows like Jane the Virgin and One Day at a Time, Afro-Latinx actors and characters are frequently left out.
It’s 2019 and yet the media still perpetuates the stereotype of what Latinx people should look like. They insist that Latinx people only look like Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara, or Selena Gomez. Not Tessa Thompson, Rosario Dawson, Zoë Saldaña, or Christina Millian.
Because of this, Afro-Latinx actors and actresses are often cast to play African-American roles. Hollywood is full of talented Afro-Latinx actors, but by giving them roles that don’t properly represent their heritage, they are undoubtedly contributing to their erasure in popular culture.
In Mun2’s documentary, Black and Latino, Suits actress Gina Torres recounted her auditioning experience.
“When I became an actress, I quickly realized that the world liked their Latinas to look Italian, not like me. And so I wasn’t going up for Latina parts, I was going up for African-American parts.”
But Afro-Latinos aren’t the only minority group in the Latinx community to go unnoticed. Latin America’s indigenous and Asian populations are more often than not left out of the conversation. It wasn’t until Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma that we saw Yalitza Aparicio Martinez, an indigenous woman as a main character in a blockbuster film.
Much of what we know and love about Latinx cultures like food, music, and spirituality can be traced back to Africa. Afro-Latinos have contributed so much to what makes Latinx culture unique and while we see and feel their contributions to the culture every day, they are still a minority within a minority. This means they have to work even harder for their visibility.
In today’s political climate, representation matters now more than ever. To truly understand the unique history of Latinx identity and culture, Latinx minority stories need to be told.
It’s going to take time to end Latinx stereotypes, but with celebrities like Amara la Negra, Tessa Thompson, and YaYa DaCosta constantly challenging what it means to be Latinx, progress is slowly but surely being made.