When I started my professional career, I worked for numerous black media organizations. Many who worked there would look at my name and say: “Claudio? Why is your name Claudio? And your last name is Cabrera!?” They didn’t view Claudio Eduardo Cabrera as an African American sounding name so were immediately wondering where I was from. And then I said I’m Dominican and the stereotypes (some true, some not) flowed out.
Question: “So, let me guess, you don’t think you’re black, right? What do you consider yourself?”
I know I am black. I am not like many Dominicans I’ve grown up around who are as dark as me and say: “Mi familia es de Espana. Yo no soy negro!” Those people think because the Spanish colonized the Dominican Republic that somehow they are Spaniards as well. While there are Dominicans who are of European ancestry, the majority of the population is mixed with African roots. Anyone who tells you otherwise was either taught or learned to hate who they are.
Statement: “You know Dominicans are really racist, right?”
Growing up in NYC, there are people from all over the Caribbean residing here. In Manhattan and the Bronx, you have a large population of Dominicans. In Brooklyn and Queens, you have a large population of Haitians. You didn’t need a law threatening the ban or deportation of Haitians in/entering the country to tell you there are racist views within the hearts of many [not all] Dominicans. You can go all the way back to the Parsley Massacre, Trujillo and Balaguer to understand it even more.
But despite the unfortunate history between both countries, this is a commonly held attitude around the Spanish speaking Caribbean and Latin America. Domestically, if you ever go to Los Angeles many will say the same about Mexicans and their views on race. If you go to Miami, many will say the same about Cubans and their views on race. This is why it’s so important that we have so many Afro-Latino voices from all over the globe talking about the struggles they’ve faced but also at the same time saying how proud they are of who they are.
Question: “How do you feel about Haitians?”
No different than I feel about Dominicans or anyone else. I think the policies the Dominican government tried to enact years back are unjust and racist. I do not agree with them in any way, shape or form. Anyone who does and claims it isn’t about race is probably lying to you.
Now, that the questions are out of the way, I want to get to the topic of Afro-Latinos and African Americans.
When the first episode of the season debuted, there were many African Americans on Twitter wondering whether Amara was really a Latina and if she was [as ignorant as this sounds] in blackface. While it may sound ludicrous to many of us who know Amara and know plenty of Afro-Latinos, there are numerous explanations for this line of thinking.
1. There are many regions in this country where people like Amara who speak Spanish would be looked at as a unicorn. Outside of the eastern seaboard, the most interaction many whites and blacks have with Latinos are Mexicans. They have a belief that Mexicans only look “one way.” They don’t know about the Mexicans on Univision who don’t look like many of the Mexicans who immigrate stateside.
For many Americans of all backgrounds, the first time they meet a Cuban or a Dominican is when they touch down in Miami or New York City. So, for many, despite it sounding extremely ignorant, the idea of a dark-skin Latino doesn’t exist because it’s something they’ve never been exposed to.
2. When you look at general media [both English and Spanish speaking] outside of sports, the Latinos who you see on your cable TV shows, gossip rags, billboards, movies and more are all light-skin. If they don’t look like Jennifer Lopez, they look like Mario Lopez. If they don’t look like Sofia Vergara, they look like William Levy. Now, when you turn on Univision and Telemundo, it’s a struggle to see one black reporter, anchor, weather person, personality, etc.
So, how can we ever expect African Americans who aren’t exposed to Latinos out of Mexicans to expect that there can be such a thing as Amara La Negra? Seeing a ton of sports athletes who are dark-skin and can barely speak English is one thing. But when there’s no representation of women of darker-skin it makes it seem like they don’t exist.
While it’s been a struggle for Afro-Latinos to both be heard and seen in both English and Spanish language media, we’ve also encountered struggles with a group we would never expect to have them with: African Americans.
In my experiences and that of many others, some African Americans want you to choose. I’ve been in many situations where I get a side-eye for saying I’m “Latino.”
“You’re black. Stop calling yourself Latino or Afro-Latino. You are just trying to find a way to make yourself less black.”
What I try to explain when I’m encountered with this is that while we are all the same race we are all very different culturally.
Let me be very clear. When I go outside, I am viewed as a black man. When I encounter the police, I am viewed as a black man. When I go on job interviews, I am viewed as a black man. It doesn’t matter what languages I speak. But despite what many believe all black people DO NOT have the exact same life and cultural experience.
You ask Amadou to come from Namibia and drop him in the center of West Harlem to meet up with Jerome who was born and raised in the neighborhood. Outside of being black, they have nothing in common.
You take Milagros from Havana, Cuba and drop her in the middle of Flatbush to meet with Tanisha and outside of both being black women, they will have nothing in common.
You take Daniel from Rome and drop him in the middle of Youngstown, Ohio to hang out with Dan and outside of being white, they will have nothing in common.
And to touch on culture a little more. Just like American whites are different than Italians from Italy, the same holds for Afro-Latinos and African Americans. Again, while we are all the same, we are different. The cultural norms are different. The way we celebrate holidays are different. Even if the foods all come from Africa, the foods we traditionally eat on a daily basis are different. The music we listen to is different. The news channels we watch. The books we read. The music we dance to. The way we party.
No one is better than the other but we are all different.
We also must remember that slaves were not just dropped off in America. Slaves were brought all over the world which is why it’s called the diaspora. There were 140 million people in the African diaspora and only 46 million came to the US. 55 million went to Brazil. 8m to Haiti. 4m to Colombia. 3m to France and Venezuela and the list continues. That means close to 94m Africans were taken to a country outside of the United States. Do you know how many different cultures under the word black or African that probably consists of?
So when I tell you that I’m Latino, please don’t fight it. If you want to ask the common question which is do I think I’m black, knock yourself out. You won’t get the response you expect because I’m not one of these self-haters. But sometimes it just feels like being dark-skin and calling yourself Latino amongst some African Americans is a sin. It feels like the word Latino is made to be worthless. But really, when I call myself Latino it’s for two reasons.
1. Because I feel it. My first language was Spanish. I spoke it until I was 6 years old when I learned English. The first music I danced to [even if I fell in love with rap and r&b] was Salsa and Merengue. There’s people in my family who live and breathe being Latino and have lived here for decades and still can’t speak a word of English.
2. It’s extremely important for both men and women who are Afro-Latino to say they are Latino not just for American audiences but the people in our own countries who want to deny us that we are just like them and marginalize us.
Our representation in many of the Latino media sectors both domestically and internationally is way closer to zero than it will ever be to 100. And despite the struggles we may face, people like Cardi B, Amara La Negra and others are the ones pushing us forward and helping the world to know that not only are we making it known that we aren’t invincible anymore or scared to speak up, but that we are also invading their TV screens, radios and more. The goal isn’t for us to just be recognized as part of society but to also be TREATED as part of society because many Afro-Latinos do not get the same attention from Latin American and Caribbean governments that others do.
Let’s keep fighting. Let’s keep promoting each other’s messages. And we will continue to break ground across the globe.
*EXCERPTS from “Dominican Americans” by Claudio E. Cabrera
Claudio Eduardo Cabrera is a 34-year-old award-winning writer and audience development expert who was born and raised in the Inwood section of Manhattan to parents from the Dominican Republic. Over the last ten years, Cabrera has worked for some of the digital space’s most notable brands such as CBS and the New York Times. Outside of his professional career, the discussions around race and colorism in Latino communities is something he’s written about extensively, specifically around the Dominican community. He plans to release a book in 2018 focused on his life’s experiences and those of other Latinos of African ancestry.
Follow his Facebook page HERE