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Latinos and a Growing Racial Awareness

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  • multiracialbookclub
    For New York s Black Latinos, a Growing Racial Awareness By MIREYA NAVARR, The New York Times, April 28, 2003 Sometime next year, Dominicans in New York City
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 7, 2005
      For New York's Black Latinos, a Growing Racial Awareness

      By MIREYA NAVARR, The New York Times, April 28, 2003

      Sometime next year, Dominicans in New York City
      plan to open a museum and cultural center to
      document their immigrant experience.
      That is not surprising, given the growth
      of the Dominican population.

      But the name chosen for the center
      may come as more of a surprise:
      "Afro-Quisqueya," a nod to these Latinos' African roots.

      As Latinos surpass `African-Americans'
      as the country's largest minority,
      Latinos who [also have some part] `black' [admixture] have been
      increasingly asserting their place as a Hispanic subgroup.

      Only 2 percent of Latinos counted in the
      2000 census "identified" themselves as `black'.

      But the proportion is much higher in New York, which
      has a large concentration of Latinos from Caribbean
      countries with a legacy of African slavery.
      Of those Latinos in the United States who identified themselves
      as `black', 28 percent — more than 200,000 — lived in New York City.

      The Afro-Latino presence has been felt locally in recent years
      in a proliferation of music and cultural events, in new college
      courses and conferences that explore `black' roots in Latin
      America and in the growing numbers of Dominicans, who
      are predominantly `black `and are expected to eventually
      surpass Puerto Ricans as the city's biggest Latino group.

      "The Dominican Republic is a country with a tremendous African
      influence; you see it in our daily customs, our music, our foods,"
      said Moises Perez, executive director of Alianza Dominicana,
      an advocacy and social service agency that is building the Afro-
      Quisqueya Cultural Center on West 166th Street in Manhattan.

      Quisqueya is the Indian name for Hispaniola,
      the Caribbean island shared by
      Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

      "Black"-Latinos straddle America's main racial divide as well as two
      distinct cultures, and sometimes navigate treacherous waters.

      As a student at Fordham University,
      Fernando Ramirez joined a black fraternity.
      At Brooklyn Law School, he interned with the
      NAACP* Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
      His Latino friends were curious, he said, wanting to
      know why he did not work at the Puerto Rican
      Legal Defense and Education Fund instead.

      (*National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)

      "I could tell what they were asking was,
      `Why are you at the `black' one?' " said Mr.
      Ramirez, 35, now a lawyer in New York City.

      Mr. Ramirez, born to a black Dominican mother and a white
      Puerto Rican father and raised in Washington Heights in
      Manhattan, is light-skinned and wears his hair in long dreadlocks.
      He goes to Spanish Mass and has a Puerto Rican fiancée.
      Of his two closest friends, one is Puerto
      Rican, the other African-American.

      By now, he is used to being scrutinized.

      "When I tell some `African-Americans' I'm "black"
      — a "black"-Latino — they think I'm being cute," he said".
      I push it.
      I ask, what does `black' mean?
      No one has a monopoly on `black' culture".

      Jay Jolliffe, 36, a dark-skinned Panamanian who runs a marketing
      research firm in New York, remembers being called the ugliest
      of racial slurs used against `blacks' when her family moved
      to a white neighborhood in Queens when she was 6.

      All her life, she said, some whites have subjected her
      to their stereotypical views of `African-Americans'.

      She still feels pressured sometimes to choose
      between her racial and cultural identities...

      Here, you have to define who you
      are within these very narrow margins".

      But recent surveys have shown resistance
      among Latinos to racial classification.

      Almost half the respondents to a national survey last year by the
      Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation said
      they would rather answer "Hispanic" or "Latino" — and leave
      it at that — than choose from the standard racial categories.

      This was also evident in the 2000 census, where 42 percent
      of those identifying themselves as "Hispanic," "Spanish"
      or "Latino" also identified themselves as a member of
      "some other race" besides black or white.
      An additional 6 percent said they were
      members of "two or more races".

      Many of those choosing these options are Mexican-Americans, whose
      racial background includes a strong indigenous
      influence, experts in Latino demographics said.

      But such preferences made Latinos
      "virtually alone in breaking away from
      the standard racial categories,"
      the Pew/Kaiser study reported.

      This resistance to racial categorization
      worries some advocates for minority groups.

      "If you have populations that need certain remedies,
      what do you do to identify them?" asked William A. Darity,
      director of the Institute of African American
      Research at the University of North Carolina.

      Self-identification is the only way, he said,
      "while being careful that how they are seen by others
      can be quite different from the way they label themselves
      — and that may be more important in
      the kind of social treatment they face".

      Some "black"-Latinos say that how others perceive
      them has an effect on how they identify themselves.

      Maria Perez-Brown, 41, a Puerto Rican television producer and
      entertainment lawyer in New York, is the daughter of a dark-
      skinned Puerto Rican mother and a white Puerto Rican father.
      She marked "Hispanic" and "black" on the census form.

      "A lot of times society makes that decision for you," she said".
      The way American culture works, you select one or the other.
      If you're brown-skinned and you say you're white,
      you're going to grow up with a lot of conflict".

      But self-identification can also be a personal choice.

      Nina Paulino, 42, a Dominican who organizes a festival of
      Dominican African dance in New York every year, is blue-eyed and
      olive-skinned but said she identifies herself as a "black"-Latina
      as a `political statement', to honor her father's side of the family.

      "I had never given respect to that side of me" while
      growing up in the Dominican Republic, she said.

      Almost half the Latinos responding in the census — 47.
      9 percent — identified themselves as white, even though
      many Americans might not see some of them that way.

      In Latin America, by contrast, the concept of race tends to be more
      elastic, said Roberto Suro, the director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

      It often starts out from a baseline of mixed heritage
      rather than one that is purely black or white.

      "In the Caribbean we're white, but in this country we would be
      black," said Neyda Martinez, Fernando Ramirez's fiancée,
      who was born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents.

      She is dark-skinned, with long wavy hair, and is
      often regarded as Indian in Puerto Rico but is
      more accurately mulatto, a mix of black and white.

      "It's empowering for Latinos to say you're `black' instead of
      Indian," said Ms.Martinez, who identifies herself as a "black"-

      Usually people try to hide behind the
      romanticism of saying you're Indian.

      For some it's a denial of the `blackness'.

      It's a very personal thing how people identify themselves.

      You can't go by skin color".

      Among the young, hip-hop has given black Latinos the
      confidence to express a `black'...identity, said Raquel Z.
      Rivera, author of the just-released "New York Ricans
      From the Hip Hop Zone" (Palgrave Macmillan), which documents
      the Puerto Rican roots of hip-hop, particularly in the dancing.

      Some performers have even branched out from hip-hop
      to reclaim African rhythms of their parents' countries,
      rhythms like bomba, a Puerto Rican music form that
      has become popular among Puerto Ricans in their
      20's and 30's in the last five years, Ms. Rivera said.

      Will Jones, a 26-year-old "black"-Latino of Panamanian descent,
      said that when he was a teenager, hip-hop gave him
      a platform to rap about racial matters and bond with
      [those]...who shared his urban experiences.

      "When hip-hop began, most people thought it was just "black"
      people, but it was really `blacks' and Latinos and it became
      the middle ground both groups could feel part of," he said.

      Mr. Jones, now a sales representative with Fat Beats,
      a Brooklyn hip-hop label, said he has moved comfortably
      in the Hispanic and African-American worlds
      because he sees himself as belonging to both.

      "I'm 100 percent `black `and 100 percent Latino," he said".
      I don't swing back and forth — the
      pendulum is always in the middle".

      Ms. Perez-Brown, who grew up in the East New York
      section of Brooklyn, said that when she attended Yale
      University there was a division between the Puerto Ricans
      from the island — "rich and blonde," she said — and
      "mainlanders" like her, dark-skinned, urban and more in
      tune with `African-Americans' from the same background.

      "It was a "class" issue, but class and
      race became commingled," she said"...

      These days, Ms. Perez-Brown is busy trying to pick the right skin
      tone for Kaelyn, the lead character in an animated series she is
      creating for Nickelodeon that features preschool superheroes.

      The character's parents are Puerto Rican and
      African-American, like Ms. Perez-Brown and her husband.

      Ms. Perez-Brown also has two other
      Nickelodeon shows to her credit.

      In the superheroes' circle of friends, one character
      is African-American, another is Native American
      and a third is non-Hispanic white.
      Kaelyn's brother is pink.
      Ms. Perez-Brown was leaning toward making
      Kaelyn a medium brown, not unlike herself.

      While a marketing team may look at the character's coloring as
      something that will help determine its commercial success as a toy,
      Ms. Perez-Brown said, she has other priorities in mind.

      "I want `black' and Puerto Rican girls to
      be able to say, `That's me,' " she said"...
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