Despite Racism in Latino Culture, Afro-Latinas Embrace Their Heritage

Crystal Roman, an Afro-Puerto Rican actress, said she has had trouble landing roles because of her multiracial background. (Photo by Dervedia Thomas/Amsterdam News)

Although racism within Latino culture against people of African ancestry has persisted for quite some time, many Afro-Latinas are embracing their African and Hispanic ancestry, Amsterdam News reports.

The racism is often quite blatant, Afr0-Latinos told the newspaper.

They hear all too often uncomplimentary phrases describing them, such as “malo clase,” Spanish for bad genes, or “malo pelo,” for bad hair.

Some say the media has partly been responsible by promoting women with Euro-centric features in magazines and by failing to actively recruit those of Afro-Hispanic descent for television programs.

“It’s insulting,” says Zoila Peralta, 53, an Afro-Dominican from New York who refuses to watch Spanish language TV. “When you see a black person, she’s either the maid or a slave.”

This has made it difficult for young Latinos to become actors, claims Crystal Roman, 29, CEO and founder of the [Black Latina Movement] in New York, an organization designed to empower Afro-Latinos in the entertainment industry.

Hard numbers of how many Afro-Latinos live in the United States are difficult to pinpoint.

According to the 2010 Census, 1,243,471 people identified themselves as such, accounting for 2.5 percent of the Hispanic population. But that number may be underestimated given that 36.7 percent of Hispanic respondents chose to write in their country of origin instead of choosing a race.

The Afro-Latino demographic can trace its roots at least back to Christopher Columbus’s arrival, Amsterdam News reported, and the discrimination against this group has lasted just as long.

The majority of Afro-Latinos are the descendants of African slaves in Latin America, according to Edmund T. Gordon, professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Some scholars, such as the late anthropologist Ivan Van Sertima, have written that there is evidence of Africans in these countries before Columbus.

Slavery as well as an elaborate caste system placed whites at the top and black and indigenous people at the bottom, and encouraged people to define themselves by their degree of “whiteness,” according to Nancy Mirabal, professor of Raza Studies at San Francisco State University.

Gordon said that Dominicans, in particular, have tried to separate themselves from the “black” label because they associate it with being Haitian.

Dominicans’ desire to distinguish themselves goes back to the Haitian Revolution in 1804, according to Gordon, when Haitians took control of the Dominican Republic, with which they share an island. A century later, he says, the animosity was again fueled by Dominican President Rafael Trujillo’s anti-Haitian policies.

“It’s been a very nasty relationship between those two counties which is based in history, but also in race,” he said.

Some Afro-Latinas are taking active steps to change the perception that “whiter is better.”

Altagracia Hiraldo, president of Dominican Sunday, a community outreach organization in New York City, is also trying to promote black pride. Her “Discovering the beauty of the Afro-Latina” pageant, which ran from 2008 to 2010, was designed to show that blacks are part of the Latino community and that they are beautiful.

“For years the history of Blacks and Latinos has been, slave, slave, slave,” she says. “One day the world is going to know we are not slaves, we are human beings.”


  1. hyacinth M. Graham says:

    There is evidently diehard racists in the Parks Dept. These sick people need to be routed out and prosecuted.
    They give a bad mark to the Parks Dept. and do not deserve to keep their jobs.

    Evertyone needs to remain vigilant and trap whoever it is. How about a sting operation?

  2. I’m very proud to be afro latina of Panamanian american descent. In the united states, latinos of african descent are not represented in the media as much as they should be. America would like their Latinas to look italian or as close to white as possible, not like me, or Zoe Salanda, or latinos who have more indigenous features. Time and time agian in interviews you hear afro latinos complain about how they were rejected roles because of the way that they look. It didn’t matter to americans that the person spoke their language better or knew the culture better than some of the people they lost roles to. Americans want to promote this eurocentric image for how latinos are suppose to look when we are so diverse, too diverse, to have our features stereotyped, or ancestry and cultures downplayed. America refuses to show the diveristy of the latin America, but I see that this is slowly changing. Zoe Salanda is one of the first afro latinas I’ve seen to get major latina roles, and shows the diversity of latin america. She is a good example for our children and helps the other latinas out there who don’t meet americas eurocentric standards for how they would “like” for all latinos to look, to have pride and self confidence when they see someone, a latina, who looks like them, up on the big screen. A beautiful morenita who looks like them and ISN’T being portrayed as a Criminal, Nanny, Maid or slave. It’s nice to see more latinas like her on television. I also love the Tekken video game Characters, Christie Monteiro and Eddy Gordo. They are the first afro latinos I’ve seen in gaming PERIOD(Though it was very insulting for them to change the race of Christie in the Tekken movie). It feels nice to finally be represented, which is why I’ve fallen inlove with the Tekken series. They depict diversity so well and stay true to the cultural history of their characters, such as having Eddy and Christie do Capoeira which is unique to the african descendants in brazil. It touches people to see this, and to see that they are finally being represented and so positively now. I hope to see more actresses like Zoe Salanda play latina roles, and more video game characters like Christie Monteiro and Eddy Gordo in the future. It teaches our young people to have a sense of pride and kills the insecurities of being negatively portrayed, or not portrayed at all in american media.

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