Intersection of Cultures: Embracing Afro-Latino Heritage
When two cultures coexist, bonds are created that become significant and take root in the lives of individuals, families, and entire societies.
This is how new cultures are created, such as the American Indian, the Chicanos, and the Afro-Latin. They also preserve a static version of each other’s past solely out of obligation or tradition.
Culture allows us to obtain a series of experiences from our ancestors, grandparents, and parents that equip us to adapt to society and flourish.
That is why it’s essential to know our roots, embrace the heritage our great-great-grandparents left us, and continue creating more experiences for future generations.
Stay with us and learn about the fascinating culture of Afro-Latinos.
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Afro-Latino Heritage in Latin-American Culture
Within the Latino identity groups that exist in the United States, we find Afro-Latinos.
People from Mexico, Central and South America, and other Spanish-speaking countries of Caribbean or African descent are called Afro-Latinos.
The Afro-Latino Forum community indicates that this term is not universally accepted, and no consensus has designated its meaning.
However, it has been taken as an expression to create long-term transnational relations and as a word to define struggle and self-affirmation.
It was not until a few years ago that it began to be used mainly to refer to people of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean, even though there is already a specified terminology in each country or region.
For example, each Afro-Latino country may have different terms depending on the context or vocabulary. A black woman in Guatemala may identify as Afro-Latina, Afro-descendant, Afro-Guatemalan, or Garifuna.
This term grew and gained ground in the United States in the 90s and emerged as a mechanism to point out racial, cultural, and socioeconomic differences.
The lives of people who identify with Afro-Latino culture were shaped by their race, skin tone, and other factors that make them different from other Hispanics.
African Roots in Latin America
When we go to the beginning of the history of Africans in the American continent, we must highlight that the United States was not the country that received most Africans.
According to Slate.com, of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans eventually reaching the Western Hemisphere, only 388,747 (less than 4 percent of the total) arrived in North America.
This figure was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish possessions in the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.
These voyages and exchanges with the African continent occurred from the 16th to the 19th century.
The Spanish-speaking Africans arrived in North America even before the English settlers. And their history is intertwined with the Africans enslaved by the white community.
Due to the treatment received since the mid-16th century, few Americans know how to differentiate or do not understand the difference between Blacks and Afro-Latinos. Also, their legacy is not mentioned in school history books.
An investigation by Pew Research Center shows that approximately 6 million Afro-Latino adults live in the United States. This amounts to 12% of the Latino adult population and 2% of the total U.S. adult population.
We recommend: 10 Famous Afro-Latinas Who’ve Made a Powerful Impact
Afro-Latino Communities and Its Vibrant Traditions
Afro-Latino culture is a multilayered culture, full of beauty and complexity and rich in experiences and traditions.
We know that the vibe is different when we are in an Afro-Latino community, since their voices and perspectives are unique and contribute significantly to society.
Not only in the social aspect but also in the arts, research, and politics.
The African influence in Afro-Latin dishes is seen in products such as yam, pigeon peas, Candia, sweet pepper, maize, coconut milk, black beans, and banana,
Typical dishes typically include rice, corn, and beans. From arepas, pupusas, tacos, tamales and tortillas. This has created delicious typical dishes from some Latin American countries.
For example, we have Mofongo, which is a Puerto Rican dish that comes from Angola. There is also Mangú from the Dominican Republic, a pounded plantain dish that comes from Fufu in West Africa.
This is probably one of the categories that African and Latin culture has had the most influence on the Afro-Latin community. Latinos are famous for their music, rhythms, dances, and songs.
Many instruments they use, such as drums, bells, rattles, and flutes, come from African religious rituals.
The rhythm and music brought by enslaved Africans during colonization have been the basis of creating music in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States.
This is how the language and oral history of the people managed to develop new forms of music in the Afro-Latin community, and that contributes to new cultural identities.
Rhythms and genres such as bachata, bomba, plena, and salsa are cultural expressions of Latin communities that resulted from the influence of Caribbean and African musical elements.
Other musical genres we can mention are cha-cha-cha, mambo, tango, pachanga, reggaeton, and rumba.
For example, the bachata of the Dominican Republic includes elements of African, indigenous, and Spanish descent. While reggaeton fuses Jamaican dancehall, Afro-Panamanian Spanish reggae, and African-American hip hop.
Art, poetry, and writing
For Afro-Latinos, the traditions their ancestors transmitted to younger generations began in arts and writing.
The Afro-Latino culture has told its history with the help of stories and oral history. For them, literature is another version of history.
Although Afro-Latinos were raised in American culture, they express themselves in English, but they also write in Spanish and talk about issues from their parents’ country of origin.
For example, in the 60s and 70s, the Nuyorican movement (as in New Puerto Rican) was born in New York. Here is where many poets, writers, and playwrights came together for a cultural awakening.
Within this movement, people honored their Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous roots with the help of new written and visual arts.
Another aspect that brings diversity to the Afro-Latino community is the variety of religions they practice.
Catholicism was brought by the Spanish conquistadors, which would later be combined with beliefs specific to the region.
Although Christianity shaped the practice of African religion in America, enslaved Africans also modified Christianity.
This is how we find religions influenced by African beliefs. Among them, we can find Candomblé, where people worship deities known as Orixás.
Moreover, Yoruba and Bantu people from Nigeria, Senegal, and the Guinea Coast created the Cuban Santeria. A mix of Santeria, Haitian Vodou, and Christianity is also practiced in the Dominican Republic.
The possibilities are endless!
Linguistics Aspects of Afro-Latino Identity
After the arrival of the Spanish in Latin America and a great diversity of demographic conditions, many Spanish dialects and variations met the plurality of African languages.
Due to trade and the change in Spanish businesses, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico were the countries that received the most enslaved Africans for forced labor.
This is how Caribbean Spanish changed. Furthermore, African languages impacted the local Spanish’s morphological, syntactic, and phonological components.
They contributed dozens of words such as maligno, guarapo, quimbombó, chango, bongó, samba, bembe, sanaco, etc.
According to the Library of Congress, linguists have documented that the tonal language of the Yorubas of Nigeria influenced the language culture in Puerto Rico.
The African language gave Puerto Rican Spanish a distinctive and unique sound. Words like chévere, ñame, and gandules are some examples of Puerto Rican expressions of African origin.
African languages are also responsible for Puerto Ricans not pronouncing consonants, such as “s” and “n,” at the end of words.
But in other countries that did not have such an African influx, the phenomenon of eliminating consonants in words also occurs.
People in Chile, Bolivia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Paraguay omit the “s;” people in Chile omit the “l” and “r;” and people in Guatemala and Nicaragua sometimes omit the “n” and “d.”
Importance of Afro-Latino Representation and Inclusion
Afro-Latino culture is firmly rooted in the identities of many U.S. Latin Americans.
Many black Latinos living in the United States continue to experience bias in work, school, and even in their communities.
Just like African Americans and Latinos themselves, Afro-Latinos are also victims of discrimination, name-calling, or victims of hate, simply for having a different skin color.
That is why Afro-Hispanics and Afro-Latinos must continue to get more recognition from a very early age in different areas of society.
First, because in this way, the other people around, with different thoughts, will get to know first-hand what it’s like to live in this society as an Afro-Latino.
They’ll be more empathetic to the reality of Afro-Latinos and be able to understand the traditions, origins, and meaning of this identity, as well as any other person from Europe or Asia.
Also, Afro-Latinos will embrace and show pride in belonging to a group of people who identify under a series of characteristics.
Opening spaces to engage in discussions, exchanges of ideas, or even just learning about Afro-Latino history can promote change.
Speak Spanish and Learn More About Latin America’s History
Afro-Latinos’ history has significantly contributed to Latin America and the United States, from religion to languages, food, and even politics.
Despite difficulties and discrimination, this community continues to give us beautiful things that shape and enrich the cultural landscape in our country.
Great personalities such as the singer Celia Cruz, the baseball player David Ortiz, and the actress Zoe Saldaña have left their mark, as the other 6 million people who identify as Afro-Latino in the United States.
And if you want to closely follow how the black Latino community continues to change the world, start by speaking their language, Spanish.
Speaking Spanish will not only help you understand the great diversity of languages and idioms that exist in Afro-Latino countries, but you will also be part of more inclusive and supportive spaces.
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