Saturday, April 18, 2015

My Afro-Latin@: Guinevere Thomas

You don't look Cuban...

Story of my life. 

There hasn't been a time in my life where I haven't been torn by my race and culture. 

I have natural 4C textured hair(Naturalistas will know this, but if you're unfamiliar, it's a hair type, one of the tightest curls hair can have.) I have dark brown, between mocha or chocolate hued skin, a wide nose, with small yet full lips.

There hasn't been a time I didn't know I was Black. Im told every single day. Im told when I open a magazine and don't see my face on ads, on covers, or in beauty columns that suggest make up advice.

Im told so when I turn on the television, and are bombarded with a sea of anti-blackness.

Most of all, Im told so when I open up books. 

To be a black girl, looking for images to mirror you are a great obstacle.

Now try adding that Im a Black-Latino.

I know. Most people get confused. Most people see "Latino" as it's own race. Synonymic with all things light brown, to caramel.

Much like American culture, Latino culture is a melting pot of food, religion, language, values, and most of all...Race.

Latinos come White, with strong European ancestry, as well as Asian, migrating from countries like Korea, Japan, and for my fellow Cubans, China. Latinos come mixed race, as well as hold Indigenous and Native heritage.

But most of all, we come Black.

I get told all the time I don't look "Spanish." Of course I wouldn't. Only someone from Spain would. But I also hear more than anything "You don't look Cuban."

My Afro-Latin@ is almost never represented. 

Most people, educated people, still interpret Afro-Latin@ as having one Latino parent, and one parent of African diaspora. And it's not wrong.

But I happen to be a Black woman, who is not only Cuban, but has two Black Cuban parents. Most of my Latin@ friends, are in fact Afro-Latin@. It's hilarious how people don't know we exist, question our existence, and even demonize the fact we identify as Black.

We're literally everywhere, but nowhere. We're right in front of your face, but invisible.

I get why there's a huge erasure of Blackness in Latino culture. It's deeply rooted from Slavery.

Of the 10.7 million Africans that survived the Middle Passage to the Americas, North America(The US. Canada has little part in the slave trade) only received approximately 388,000(or a disputed 645,00).

But one of the biggest difference between Blackness in the United Staes vs Latin America is how Blackness is viewed.

In the United States, we live by the One Drop Rule. If you had one drop of Black blood, you were considered Black. It's the complete opposite in the Caribbean, South America and Central America. If you can claim European heritage, you can denounce Blackness.

Many Afro-Latin@s don't acknowledge, or see themselves as Black, because from our first breath, we are taught to "adelantar la raza" a practice many Black-Latin@s know well. It roughly means to "push the race forward" and it encourages darker hued Latinos to marry or produce children with someone fair skinned, so you won't have dark skinned children.

Black-Latin@s are often erased from history. Our activism, our setbacks, our accomplishments, our fights for freedom. 

We look to history makers of Black diaspora in the United States, because our own culture erased us.

And we struggle between race and ethnicity.

If you ask me what I consider myself, right this very second, I'll tell you Black.

If Im being frank, I don't always connect to my Latin@ness, in the same ways my sister Libertad does.

For one, my name is Guinevere. I haven't met one Cuban person without an unconventional name, but because my mother dared to name me something no one in my existence would ever be able to pronounce, unless they were familiar with Arthurian legends, to most people, Im not "latin" enough.

I rejected the Spanish language much earlier than Libertad. I walked through my childhood, teens and half my 20's preferring African-American over Afro-Cuban. My struggle with religion has always left me in a difficult position. Because I've studied Buddhism since I was 18, I lack the connection of faith most Cubans, over other Latin@s have.

I embrace Blackness, because I see the power in it. But non-Black Latin@s see it as trying to separate myself from Latin@ culture by using the hyphen Afro- or Black- in front of Latin@.

I am dark skinned, natural haired, with questionable Spanish.

But those definitions, Im a gringo to other Latin@s.

I often envied how someone the same age as me, who grew up in the same house, and learned the same things I did, connected so much more to her Latin@ness than me.

I've been told I look Ghanaian, Nigerian or Haitian(which are in no way bad things. The most beautiful women in the world that I've met, hailed from there) more than I've been told I look Latin@.

Most people think Latin@ looks like this: (From Left to Right From First Row to Bottom-Christina Milian, Gina Torres, Tatyana Ali, Rosario Dawson, Matt Cedeno and Lauren Velez)

 But My Afro Latin@ also looks like this: (From Left to Right from Top Row-Bottom: Yosliem Ariosa, Concha Buika, Laz Alonso, The Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz, Sen Dog from Cypress Hill, Athlete Mireya Lius, musician Ibrahaim Ferrer)

Due to colonialism, Blackness is no longer monolithic. Latin@ness is no longer monolithic.

But I wish I saw in the media, what I saw in my own mirror.

I review books that celebrate diversity. I read books that celebrate diversity. I promote books that celebrate diversity.

But where do I fit? When will my narrative matter? When will I get to read a character that celebrates her Blackness with her Latin@ness? 

This is not true for all Latin@s, but it is for me.

My Blackness is my Latin@ness. My Latin@ness is my Blackness. To me, Black and Latin@ mean the same thing.

It's why I wanted to create a series of guest posts celebrating Black-Latin@s. It'll be over a long period of time. I may get an idea for a post, or I may get a guest post from an eager blogger wanting to share their story.

But Im not done talking about this. Im never going to be done talking about this. Until then, peace out...


  1. I loved this post. I'm a white redneck so fitting in for me has always been easy. I truly can't imagine what headaches you must go through. I CAN say that maybe instead of waiting for someone to write stories from a Black Cubana point of view, perhaps you should instead start writing them.
    I would read that.

  2. Eye-opening post. I have to say you and Libby introduced me (and many other people, I'm sure) to things I wasn't aware of. And I like to learn :).

  3. Brilliant post! Educating people on issues of race, culture, and identity from personal experience and perspective makes this a powerful piece. And there will be relatable Afro-Latin@ characters coming in FF because you are writing them. Keep writing and keep educating. We need it!

  4. @hayden thank you so much for reading =D You're totally right. I haven't been very productive in the recent weeks, but I do have some WIPs featuring Afro-Latina characters =D

  5. @Roberta you are awesome =D Im not sure how race, nationality, heritage and ethnicity differs in Italy, but I know the US is the only place in the world that questions Black Latin@s authenticity. Thank you for reading, hoping over to your blog soon =D

  6. @Kelly Thank you for stopping by to read. I hope so. I'd love to hear another person's story =)

  7. Brilliant post! Educating people on issues of race, culture, and identity from personal experience and perspective makes this a powerful piece. And there will be relatable Afro-Latin@ characters coming in FF because you are writing them. Keep writing and keep educating. We need it!

  8. Truly a great story. I too have received the "You don't look Cuban" or "You look like some other nationality" comment. Some days, i do choose to educate people on Cuban culture and heritage. Others, i simply laugh and keep it moving. Seems like people forget, Cuba was the longest lasting participation in the transatlatinc trade. We are as much African as anything else.

  9. Very good story. I too am of Cuban ancestry, both parents from the island, both of mixed ancestry, but i grew up with the culture in my home, especially, African traditions. I too have got the "You don't look Cuban" comments. Sometimes i laugh it off, other times, i choose to educate people. I actually had an exchange recently with someone (black American) who heard me listening to Buena Vista Social Club. Started asking questions about the music. I explained Cuba's history (longest lasting participation in the slave trade, the African traditions that shaped our culture) and he seemed pretty astounded. I believe we will move forward through sharing and understanding our connections across the diaspora. We may identify slightly different, but we all share a common thread.


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