At the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) on Thursday evening the Afro-Latinx Board hosted “The Skin You’re In,” a presentation and discussion explaining the background behind the term and identity that surrounds “Afro-Latinx” as well as the importance of educating people on the topic.
“Afro-latinx” is a gender-neutral term that is used to describe anyone who is, whether partially or fully, of mixed African and Latin descent. The term was initially coined as “Afro-Latino” in the late 1970s but then was modified to “Afro-Latinx” in the late 2000s. “Afro-Latinx” encompasses all individuals who identify anywhere along the gender spectrum, as opposed to the gender binary consisting of total masculinity and femininity that many Afro-Latinx cultures have traditionally valued
The Afro-Latinx Board talked about the history and experiences of the Afro-Latinx community, dating as far back as to the African slave trade, specifically in The Middle Passage which dated from the early 16th century to the mid-19th century. Approximately 11.2 million African slaves were taken across the Atlantic Ocean. Although a majority of people believe that these slaves were taken to the United States, 95 percent of slaves actually went to Latin America.
Afro-Latinx as a term is designated for those identifying as both African and Latinx, not just one or the other. Sometimes it’s confusing for an individual to decide how to identify when they are of a mixed race background. It’s important that these kinds of conversations are had because people who struggle with identity formation “don’t really know where and who they can identify with especially if they are self-identifying Afro-Latinx,” Siara Maldonado, a third-semester global health major, said. “So by having these types of discussions, events and platforms for them to find themselves are very important because it shows that they’re here.”
The topic then shifted to the issue of colorism, or discrimination based off of skin tone. All Latin American countries underwent a chapter of whitening which gave rise to colorism and its controversy in Latinx culture. Students shared their own experiences with colorism in their own communities, friends and family. Some students explained how they were often discriminated against within their own families because their skin color was darker than what was preferred in their culture.
“We were brought up thinking the lighter you are the better, so colorism has always been a problem,“ Johany Quiroz, a first-semester WGSS and human rights major said. “If your skin tone is lighter than another then you’re going to get treated a certain way compared to somebody who is darker.”
Since colorism is something that many Latinx individuals grew up with, it’s not uncommon for one to hear the Spanish phrase, “‘mejorando la raza’ [or] ‘bettering the race’. Our families want us to marry [and] have children with light-skinned people, “ Kyle Rodriguez, a third-semester allied health sciences major said. “Because they think that’s what’s going to progress… and move the race forward.”
Although colorism is often seen amongst families, the conversation mentioned how being light-skinned is glorified and how it’s subtly portrayed in much of Latinx media
“What people fail to realize is how important visual representation is,” Maldonado said, “Going back to how you grow up…you turn the TV on and you’re looking for someone that looks like you and if you don’t find them, it’s like, ‘How can I be successful if I look like me?’”
Many prominent Latin American figures in music and television are fair skinned. Maldonado elaborated on this by saying, “It’s one thing for Univision [or] Telemundo to talk about Afro-Latinidad, but it’s… more powerful if it’s an actual Afro-Latino who is of a darker complexion, sharing that message.”
Usually, there are many problems associated with identity formation when one is of mixed race. This may include disliking their own skin color, denying their African roots and having different opinions from that of their own family.
For Imani Morgan, a third-semester pre-med and biology major, it’s important to “[allow] yourself to be vulnerable and learn. A lot of things happened that people aren’t taught, and when they hear that, they’re even more ashamed of who they are… I think you have to be ready to hear what you’re not ready to hear and accept it from there.”