Last week Hispanic Heritage Month began.
Designated as Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, this recognition of Latino culture in the United States was first created in September 1968, when Congress authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week.
The original week grew into a monthlong celebration in 1988, and the mid-month start and end of the celebrations—from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15—were chosen to align the celebrations with the recognition of the national independence dates of seven Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile—that celebrate their independence from Spain.
As with the celebration of Black History Month, Hispanic, or Latino, Heritage Month is an opportunity for U.S. residents to acknowledge the presence of a community that is not often widely recognized.
This recognition becomes especially important in the Afro-Latino community, because there is still a widely held view that Latinos are one race of people, rather than the same mix of African, Asian, European and indigenous groups that are found here in the U.S.
In Latin America, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the population is of African descent. Specifically, Central America has an estimated 3 million Blacks. But in some places, such as Mexico, it is hard to come up with specific numbers, particularly because the official census does not have a category for Afro-Mexicans. However, estimates are that more than 400 Afro-Mexican communities exist in 11 Mexican states, which means some 1 million Afro-Mexicans live in places such as Michoacan, Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Colima, Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Mexico state and Mexico City.
There is a common worry among people of the African Diaspora when they migrate to the U.S. and try to find a way to fit into American society. Afro-Latinos, like English or French speaking Blacks from the Caribbean, face some of the same issues other Black people do. There is a “reluctance to assimilate into the larger African-American community,” writes
Lisa J. Scott in “The Sound of My Footsteps: Narratives of 30 Jamaican Immigrants in New York State and Nottingham, England” (Saarbrücken, Germany: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing, 2011). This reluctance is often “misinterpreted as a wholesale rejection of the latter group,” Scott writes. “In reality, it stems from an attempt to avoid the imposition of a more restrictive identity than that to which they are accustomed.”
Those who emphasize the growing population of Latinos in the U.S. rarely point out the numbers of Latinos emigrating here who are of African descent. Afro-Latinos are a group caught in the middle of the U.S.’s two major ethnic groups—African-Americans and Latinos. Many come from nations where taking pride in their African ancestry was not widely encouraged. But here, everyday contact with African-Americans has helped many Afro-Latinos re-examine their own cultures and helped them to notice—and forced them to speak out against —internal racism in their native communities.
Because they are also Hispanic, Afro-Latinos find themselves confronting some of the same internal anti-Latino bias that some in the African-American community have projected. They have helped Black Americans recognize that when they are anti-immigrant, they are often also working against opportunities for Afro-Latinos. Blacks from Latin America have been able to show African-Americans that wider political discussions about U.S. foreign policy in the Americas should hold their concern too, because sending more arms to Colombia or promoting tougher trade talks with countries such as Venezuela or Cuba not only affects the often white or mestizo figureheads of those countries but also determines how the often economically poor Blacks who are native to those nations will live.
Below is one of the local area events that can help expose everyone to the roots of Latino culture of in the U.S.
MALIK Fraternity is sponsoring an Oct. 3 get-together at Harlem’s Schomburg Center entitled “The Afro Latino: Many Faces One People.” The event features the activist, journalist and former Last Poets and Young Lords Party member Felipe Luciano as the keynote speaker, as well as a panel discussion on the Afro-Latino experience today. (www.eventbrite.com/e/malik-fraternity-national-latino-heritage-month-celebration-tickets-18377903805?ref=estw#lightbox_contact).
Events that have passed include “Latino Poets Speak Out” presented as part of the East Orange Public Library’s Cultural Cafe Thursday, Sept. 17. (www.eopl.org/mapmain.htm). The event featured an open mic to allow audience members to participate, a remembrance of the Afro-Nuyorican poet and author of “Down These Mean Streets,” Piri Thomas and invited guest poets.
The Madison Square Park Conservancy hosted “Poetry Under Fata Morgana” Thursday, Sept. 17, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 pm. This free, spoken-word poetry and performance event featured Latino poets reciting in Madison Square Park under the outdoor art exhibition called “Fata Morgana.”
The National Museum of the American Indian (1 Bowling Green, New York, N.Y., 10004; www.nmai.si.edu/) sponsored a free “Family Day” Saturday, Sept. 19. Children were shown how to decorate a jaguar mask and weave bracelets and learned about the importance of corn among the indigenous people of Central America.