February is Black History Month. Many outside the African American community may well pay their dues and lip service but fail to truly comprehend the importance of February. At the same time, many people will question why “identity politics” matter. This very question highlights the continued and systematic misrepresentation of minorities in America. Minorities are constantly lambasted for showing self-pride, yet Polish Pride Festivals, Oktoberfest, and other countless Euro-centric festivities are widely celebrated without pause for thought.
Minority communities will also question the purpose of actively celebrating different minority communities. However, many fail to realize a simple truth — by celebrating one community, we are not diminishing another. Instead, it highlights our shared history and contributions. By celebrating one, we are concurrently celebrating the beautiful diversity that made America great and exceptional.
2018 seems far removed from Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the other countless heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Yet, today, we are still debating the role of racist Confederate symbols, police brutality, the war on drugs, and inner-city plight. On paper, we have accomplished much, without the Voting Rights Act of 1965, for example, many would still be disenfranchised. Still, much work remains — most major American cities remain segregated, the cycle of poverty remains unbroken, and minorities continue to be underrepresented across all levels of government.
What then does Black History Month matter to Latinos as we face our own modern troubles and tribulations? While it matters because of our shared history as minorities, it also matters because of our shared lineage. Many in both the Latino and African American community forget our shared blood in the Afro-Latino community. An often-forgotten community, Afro-Latinos are uniquely situated in both the African American and Latino communities.
Race is often viewed as a monolithic term. Afro-Latinos, and many other groups, however, straddle that simplistic definition and prove race is not an “either/or” scenario.
For those that identify as both African American and Latino does not mean they are less of one or the other. Latin American culture and history already reflect strong African influence. Together, we create a mosaic of culture representing the broader American experience.
Afro-Latinos represent close to 40% of the population in Latin America. A Pew Research Center survey of Latinos found that 25% self-identify as Afro-Latino. That same study found that Afro-Latinos are less likely to have a college education, more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods, and are more often foreign-born compared to other Latino groups. Although they are often forgotten and misrepresented, Afro-Latinos have made significant contributions to American culture and society. Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. was an Afro-Cuban born in Harlem. Representative Adriano Espaillat, a Dominican-American, currently represents New York’s 13th Congressional District. They are our neighbors and our friends whose history and culture matter just as much as yours.
During Black History Month, the Afro-Latino community will remain overlooked. In September, during the throngs of Hispanic Heritage Month and the celebration of Latino history and culture, Afro-Americans will again remain a silent minority. This February, let us take the opportunity afforded by Black History Month and celebrate not only African-Americans but also the Afro-Latinos within our own local communities.
As communities of color across America are increasingly stigmatized, we must stand together and celebrate our different identities. Black History Month offers the Latino community the annual opportunity to celebrate our fellow community of color and a rarely celebrated community within our own family.