Being Latin and black
Afro-Latinos grapple with labels in U.S.
By JANITA POE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Jacqueline Rosier is a Latina who loves her culture and speaks Spanish
as fluently as English.
But Rosier -- a native of Panama who is of African descent -- has
struggled to identify herself as part of the Latin American community
since coming to the United States 28 years ago.
"I always shock people and get a lot of questions when I say I'm a
Latina," said Rosier, 38, a marketing and public relations manager in
Duluth. "I've found a lot of white people don't accept me or respect me,
on a certain level, because of my color. And I've found a lot of
African-Americans want to put me in their box."
For dark-skinned Latinos in the United States, the American dream is
often punctuated with dismaying experiences of trying to fit into a
classification-oriented society. Black Latinos share a culture and
language with white Latinos, but some say the race consciousness of
America forces them to adopt an identity -- as black Americans -- that
is not really their own. If they eschew the label, Afro-Latinos say they
still are treated as African-Americans by most people and resented by
some blacks who think they are ashamed of their African heritage.
Since moving to Georgia from Los Angeles in 1991, Rosier, whose husband
is a New York-born black American, has taken on an African-American
identity -- even embraced it -- in order to avoid conflict and to get
along in her workplace and community, she said.
She learned the advantages of that practice early in life.
"In high school, I began identifying with the African-Americans because
the whites treated us differently," said Rosier, who didn't speak
English when she moved to Los Angeles with her family in 1976.
The American penchant for black-white labels puzzles the Rev. Johnathan
The 37-year-old pastor, whose mother is African-American and father is
Puerto Rican, grew up in the United States and stresses both of his
heritages, despite people wanting to classify him as either Latino or
Alvarado has Latino features and a Spanish surname. But he also is a
Morehouse man who likes to brag about his "Nubian queen," his wife, Toni
Alvarado, "a beautiful brown-skinned sister from the South Side of
"I am very specific about identifying myself as an Afro-Latino," said
Alvarado, pastor of Total Grace Christian Church in Decatur.
As the Latino population has grown in the United States, so has the
number of Latinos of African descent. According to the 2000 U.S. census,
the 35.3 million Hispanics in the United States, the nation's largest
minority, account for 12.5 percent of the country's population, up from
8.8 percent in 1990.
About 2 percent of the Hispanics in the 2000 census identified
themselves as "black." That compares with close to half who said they
were "white" and the 42.5 percent who described themselves as "some
other race." Since 1970, in addition to asking people to identify
themselves by race, the U.S. census has asked people to indicate if they
are either "Hispanic" or "non-Hispanic." "Hispanic" is considered an
ethnicity, not a race; people of Hispanic origin can be of any race.
Though Latinos who describe themselves as black make up a very small
percentage of the U.S. Hispanic population, studies suggest their
socioeconomic status is more akin to that of African-Americans than
other Latinos or white Americans.
According to a study by the State University of New York at Albany that
was released last month, "How Race Counts for Hispanic Americans,"
Hispanics who define themselves as "black" have lower incomes and are
more likely to reside in segregated neighborhoods than those who
identify themselves as "white" or "other."
Most black Hispanics, the study found, come from the Dominican Republic
and Puerto Rico, though nearly a quarter-million people of Mexican
heritage defined themselves as black in the census.
While it looks at quantitative data, the study has implications about
the quality of life for black Latinos in the United States, said State
University of New York sociologist John Logan.
"The data suggest Hispanics may think about race differently than most
Americans," said Logan, who directs the university's Lewis Mumford
Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research, which conducted the
study. "Dark-skinned Hispanics as well as black people from the
Caribbean knew they would be black in America before coming here, but
they didn't realize how much of an impact it would have on their lives."
Because Latin American culture has fused different cultures and races,
many Latinos have unique experiences of being classified by others as
white or black, depending on the situation. Some say Latin Americans
have a better sense of how important color is in the United States
because they usually straddle the line between white and black.
When Consuelo "Connie" Taylor, a third-generation Mexican-American, was
born 48 years ago in Los Angeles, her birth certificate labeled her as
Caucasian. But while growing up in a racially mixed neighborhood in Los
Angeles, her schoolmates called her names because of her light brown
skin and wavy hair.
"I was called the n-word all the time," said Taylor, who is married to
an African-American and is the manager of the Georgia Department of
Labor's Gwinnett Career Center. "So I felt if they are treating me like
one, I might as well join" the black community.
Taylor said her extended family in the United States and in Latin
America talk routinely about skin color, hair texture and features when
Fair skin is preferred over darker skin within the Latino culture,
Taylor said, and it affects everything from job opportunities to
romantic relationships. When marrying, for instance, Taylor said,
"you've done well" when you've wed someone lighter than yourself.
After high school, Taylor joined the Air Force, where she said she first
felt free of discrimination based on her skin color. "I spent 12 years
in the military as just an American," Taylor said. "Then I came back
here to the States [from having served overseas], and I'm not an
American anymore; I'm someone that has to be put in some category."
Perceptions in metro Atlanta are gradually changing, however, Alvarado
While attending Morehouse College, Alvarado said, he was classified
solely as a black American. But since the rapid ethnic diversification
of Atlanta over the last decade, Alvarado says many people now assume he
"Before, I was seen pretty much as a light-skinned black person,"
Alvarado said, "but now because of the way I look, people will come up
to me and ask directions in Spanish."
Alvarado, who speaks fluent Spanish, travels regularly to Puerto Rico to
assist two fledgling churches affiliated with Total Grace. A trained
musician, he also mentors music students and recent graduates of
"I think I was put here as a pastor in Atlanta to help bridge the gap
between the African-American and Latino communities," Alvarado said.
"These two communities should come together more, because they have an
opportunity to make a serious impact on Atlanta."
Find this article at:http://www.ajc.com/news/content/news/atlanta_world/0803/06blacklatinos.html