In recent years, the visibility of the term Afro-Latinx has risen after decades of erasure and marginalization in conversations about race in the U.S. Some, such as cultural critic and writer Janel Martinez of Ain’t I Latina? have highlighted that “Afro-Latinx” has been diluted for economic purposes, often by Latinx people of lighter complexions. Despite these challenges, I suggest that the term can continue to provide a political and social home for transnational and diasporic U.S.-based people yearning to create a contextual framework to hold their embodied identities. This is particularly the case when those who identity as Afro-Latinx in the U.S. use their power and privilege to connect the political and economic struggles of Black peoples across the Americas and participate in actions that can lead towards positive change.
As a scholar-activist of the Dominican diaspora, breathing life into my Afro-Latinx identity has involved using the tools and practices of community-based education and activism, many of which I have learned from the work of other Caribbean and African American activists, to highlight the experiences of Dominicans of Haitian descent, Black Dominicans and the general Dominican-Haitian relationship. On February 27th, 2019, I, alongside the team of In Cultured Company and a group of friends that I can best describe as young Dominican decolonization activists, helped to make the hashtags #RealDominicansAreNotAntiHaitian and #DominicanosRealesNoSonAntiHaitiano viral on social media. This act represented an attempt to create a historical, visual and digital footnote in a contentious history of state-sponsored violence, erasure and historical myth making that has positioned Haitians as the perennial enemies of Dominicans. February 27th, Dominican Independence Day, is the zenith of an insidious tendency for historical revisionism in the Dominican Republic, one that helped the Trujillo dictatorship and Balaguer Neo-dictatorship to materialize differences between Dominicans and Haitians into a rigid, apartheid-like state of social inequality (San Miguel 2006, Garcia-Peña 2016 Paulino 2016).
One photo inspired nearly 600 posts and reposts and a conversation spanning three languages, the Caribbean and the United States, marking a clear desire to tell a different story about Dominican-Haitian relations. These conversations are now archived for posterity and can be accessed by anyone, anywhere in the world. The underside of the positivity created by this campaign was the violent threats by Dominican nationalists and the emotionally-draining and difficult conversations with friends and family members that ensued during the campaign.
As this campaign unfolded, it became evident to me that this and other forms of activism that I have partaken in inform, and are informed by, my Afro-Latinx experience and identity. I have been shaped by the rich and dissident cultural and creative life of a contemporary generation of Black and Indigenous women that is claiming space in the United States’ public sphere. I came of age in the context of Black Lives Matter, but quickly came to understand that in my version of the praxis of BLM must necessarily be transnational and involve Haitian people in the D.R. As I traverse transnational worlds, I and other Afro-Latinx subjects can bring the fierce dedication to creative forms of solidarity with the most marginalized that we already put into practice in the U.S. to the countries we claim affiliation to. There are challenges in navigating two cultures and racial paradigms which have typically been narrated as “different:” The U.S. one-drop rule and Latin America’s myth of mestizaje. It is evident that these systems converge and have anti-blackness at their core.
Afro-Latinx people’s transnational activist exercises, and the forms of translation, narrative building and archiving that they require, highlight the challenges and future directions for the viability of Afro-Latinx identity as a politicized tool of practice in the Americas. The hyphen in our identities requires that we traverse transnational universes of solidarity thinking critically and politically about access in terms of language, financial resources and the privileges of a U.S. passport and/or cultural affiliation provides. Reimagining the decolonization of Hispaniola, or any of the Latin American and Caribbean spaces that we claim, will be a collaborative, messy and long project that itself will require that Afro-Latinx people gain greater connection to these blindspots and challenge their own privileges. Although this process is comfortable or easy, it is vital and necessary for the future of the meaning of Afro-Latinx.
Written by Saudi Garcia