Afro- Latinas; Where Are You?

As a young Dominican girl, growing up watching Hispanic/Latino television with my family, one thing soon became clear, I hardly saw any Latinas that looked like me. And by me, I mean the brown-skin, curly-hair, curvaceous, “morenita” type. There was always the skinny, fair-skin, fine-hair type, but what about me, what about US?

I soon learned that “us” was the Afro- Latinas. The ones whose African roots were clearly visible through our traits. Today, I still continue to see the divide in our representation in Hispanic/Latino media AND American media. Popular Hispanic soap operas (novelas) never cast an Afro- Latina for a lead role. There aren’t any Afro- Latina newscasters and we are hardly represented in magazines. As a matter of fact, when Dominican and Puerto Rican actress Zoe Saldana was placed on the front cover of the September 2011 issue of Latina magazine, it was a big deal.

This is not only a problem in Hispanic/Latino media as I stated earlier, American media doesn’t give Afro- Latinas much credit either. Most Afro- Latinas are cast as African- Americans when they appear on American television shows or movies. Panamanian actress Melissa De Sousa, who starred in The Best Man and stars in the new show Reed Between the Lines, claims she had to “fight” to start being cast as an Afro- Latina after bringing up the topic to her agent (Latina.com). Her fight was worth it as she plays an Afro- Latina in Reed Between the Lines. She also stated that she felt it has become a mission of hers to represent Afro- Latinas after she received plenty of love and thanks from fans that could identify with her.

So why is there a misrepresentation of such a demographic? I think it stems from problems within the Hispanic culture. Many Latinos do not want to identify with their African roots, especially if they don’t look “African.” But for those of us who do share the qualities of our ancestors, we are quickly shunned as the “lesser” Latino/Latina. Our darker skin color and kinkier hair somehow becomes a measurement of our worth. Growing up, the black people in my neighborhood were called “morenos” and that usually carried a negative connotation: “Don’t hang out with the morenos. Morenos will get you in trouble.” But I was in turn called a “morenita” by fellow Dominicans and other Latinos, so was I also carrying that negative connotation?

I believe much of our disconnect with our African roots comes from a lack of education and an overload of ignorance. We are all African. We all have these roots and until we teach our youth to learn and appreciate their roots, there will always be a divide, within our communities and the media. An accurate understanding of the Hispanic/Latino race cannot be understood without taking a look into our African lineage. It cannot be ignored.

Pulitzer Prize- winning Dominican author, Junot Díaz, said it best, ““I was neither black enough for the black kids or Dominican enough for the Dominican kids. I didn’t have a safe category” (Fox News Latino).

Author’s note: This post is in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and the continuous struggle of my fellow Afro- Latinas. I love all my Latinos/Latinas!