When it comes to Afro-Latinos History in the United States there is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the shared struggle all members of the African diaspora have endured. Many don’t know that the presence of Spanish-speaking Africans in North America goes back to the mid-sixteenth century. That being said, Afro-Latinos have been a part of American history for centuries and their stories should be told and celebrated during Black History Month.
With the long history of oppression of Africans and African-descent in the United States it’s not surprising that there is little to no mention of Afro-Latinos history on textbooks and other historical records. Most of what is known of the Afro-Latinos history has been collected via research and through storytelling. In the beginning of the twentieth century, Afro-Latino Arturo Schomburg, from Puerto Rico, dedicated himself to research the history of African descendants.
Schomburg was a prominent figure during the cultural and artistic revolution that took place in Harlem during the 1920s and took it upon himself to gather Afro-Latinos history, and later expanded to preserving the history of the African diaspora in the United States and beyond.
Schomburg was part of what was known as the Harlem Renaissance and also called the “New Negro Movement”, it included the artistic expressions happening across urban areas in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. Like Schomburg, there have been others who make up Afro-Latinos history and left their mark within the American fabric and experience.
Here are powerful 3 reasons to celebrate Afro-Latinos history during Black History Month as a way to recognize their rightful place in American history:
- The First Africans in The US. Many people don’t know that Afro-Latinos were here even before the foundation of the United States. Since there were already Africans throughout South America and the Caribbean, they were among the first that opted to come and settle in the lands that we now know as California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. There are records of Spanish speaking Black Latinos as far as before the arrival of the English settlers. As the Spanish crown continued its expansion throughout the continent and since Africans had outnumbered the amount of Europeans living in America, they were among the first to settle in the United States at a point in which they had already adopt the language and some of the customs imposed by the Spaniards. This also proves that after been enslaved and removed from their roots; and having learned the Spanish language and gained some dignity by being a numerical majority in those north American towns, Afro-Latinos had major challenges, cruelty and horrible conditions one the English settlers took over. As Africans that were later brought by the English, Afro-Latinos endured once again the tragedy of the African diaspora.
- Pioneer Farmers. Because Afro-Latinos had experienced the tropical agriculture and with the background the had from the African societies they had originally taken from, they were responsible for growing the first crops the African diaspora grew in north America as they had previously done in South America & the Caribbean as miners of metals and growers of tobacco and coffee. With time, and the arrival of other Africans brought by the English, those stories blended and the struggles became one, but the influence of those first Spanish-speaking Africans are not only part of the Afro-Latinos history and background, but that of Blacks in the United States.
- They’ve Made America Colorful! As other members of the African diaspora have done everywhere, Afro-Latinos have made their distinct imprint as part of a bicultural group that not only carries it’s African ancestry, but the heritage embedded by the Spanish for better or for worse. We see clear examples in our modern society through salsa, mambo, poetry, reggaeton, the contributions in baseball, the arts, and so many other areas in which Afro-Latinos history lives, even when more often than not, they experience the invisibility of not being acknowledged as belonging to any of the two groups in which they rightfully belong: Latinos and African Americans.
Today, as we start to celebrate Black History Month, I invite you to learn, acknowledge and celebrate the vibrant, creative and beautiful Afro-Latino experience in the United States.
Happy Black History Month!