In this guest post, Nigerian-American Timothy Battle shares his personal experience about learning about Afro-Latinos/as.
My first experience meeting Afro-Latinos occurred during the 80’s. I was in the Army and on the first day at my new duty station in Korea, as I sat in the chow hall in the company of other new military arrivals, a dark-skinned brother sat next to me. The whole room was semi-quiet, except for a few sparse conversations taking place. It seemed as if everyone was simply trying to adjust to the time change from the United States to South Korea. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the dark-skinned brother was looking around and then his attention stopped on the Latino soldier who was seated directly in front of him. He began his introduction to the Latino soldier by saying, “Hey man, are you Puerto Rican?” At that moment memories of high school cafeteria shenanigans raced through my mind, so I instinctively took my leg from under the table because I wanted to be nimble, as what I thought was going to be a very contentious interaction. The Latino soldier sat up straight, frowned and said, “Yeah!” To my surprise, the dark-skinned brother’s response to the Latino soldier’s affirmation was an onslaught of Spanish. Suffice to say, my jaw dropped open as the two pleasantly conversed in Spanish. At that time I shrugged off the experience and thought nothing more about it.
As I was writing this blog post, memories of other similar eye-opening experiences with blacks from Latin America came to mind, although at the time it never dawned on me that they were Latino. Such as the time when I vacationed in Cancun, Mexico, our tour bus driver was a brown-skinned brother with a big afro who wore shades and constantly picked his hair when we stopped at stoplights. I concluded at that time the driver must be an African-American who simply decided to move to Mexico. He too spoke Spanish fluently. At the time it did not dawn on me that he in fact could have been an Afro-Latino. Also, there was the time I met a beautiful black woman, again while in the Army, whose last name was Lopez, and who again, spoke Spanish really well. As time has passed, I have come to acknowledge my own naïveté. I made assumptions and drew conclusions based upon my limited understanding of historical facts; and please don’t act as if I’m the only person who has operated under a faulty or ignorant understanding of this incredible level of diversity amongst blacks. The knowledge gap for numerous people about Afro-Latinos within the Caribbean, Latin and South America continues to exist.
In fact, the entire history about the transatlantic slave trade and the formation of countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and numerous other South American and Caribbean countries truly needs to be completely revealed. Henry Louis Gates’ documentary, Black in Latin America is a good start, but it is only a start. More education is required. Too many people assume that the majority of Africans who were kidnapped were transported to the United States. The truth of the matter is that “there were 11.2 million Africans that we can count who survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World, and of that 11.2 million, only 450,000 came to the United States.” Gates’ documentary, Black in Latin America left me spellbound, dumbfounded, and ashamed. It showed how utterly uneducated I was about the African Diaspora. I could not understand how this information was never taught in a history class or at least mentioned during Black History Month.
For far too long in the United States, being black or of African descent has translated into being an African American, but that concept is not true. In my opinion, amongst most African Americans, there is a vague understanding about the transatlantic slave trade, but most only understand that which seems to pertain to their personal ancestral history. Most African Americans still do not know the history of Afro-Latinos and the Caribbean.
I hope my son and daughter never come to me with a story about the day they met their first Afro-Latino. To this end, we must all step forward to do our part in righting the wrong of apathy, ignorance and misinformation! Let’s celebrate the African Diaspora and all of the contributions this diverse population has made to the growth and development of multiple countries, cultures and the WORLD!
Tim Battle is an aspiring blogger who loves and appreciates the African Diaspora. He has two Masters Degrees, one in Training and Development and another in Management Information Systems. He is the father of two outstanding African-American children and has been married for 16 years.
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