CAHSS Faculty Articles

Afro-Latinidades in the United States

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SX Salon: A Small Axe Literary Platform



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In the recent PBS series Black in Latin America, the renowned African American scholar Henry Louis Gates travels through various Latin American countries to trace the history of the 11.5 million Africans who were brought to this region as slaves.1 In every episode, the eminent Harvard professor appears surprised when encountering solid evidence showing the important role Africans and their descendants have played in the history and culture of Latin America. Gates learns about such important figures as Vicente Guerrero and José María Morelos, in Mexico, and Antonio Maceo, in Cuba—Afro-Latin Americans who fought tirelessly for their nations’ independence from Spain. Early in the series, Gates admits that he knew little about Latin America and the region’s significant African heritage. And he adds that prior to conducting this research, he, like many in the United States, made distinctions between African Americans and Latinos as if the two were distinct ethnic or racial categories. One of the most poignant moments in the series occurs while Gates is visiting Mexico’s Costa Chica region, an area with a vibrant and marked Afro-Mexican presence. While there, Gates discovers that Mexico isn’t just a “mestizo” nation, a mix of Spanish and Native American, as many scholars have claimed; it is also black, despite the apparent erasure of the millions of African slaves and their descendants from official history. During his visit, Gates makes an extraordinary declaration, “If the ‘one drop rule’ was applied to Mexico, all of these people would be black.”2



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