New group affirms African-Latino identity

CHICAGO — Over 200 people met at San Lucas United Church here Sept. 21 for the launching of the Afro-Latin@ Institute of Chicago. Its mission is to help strengthen research and build activist networks among Latinos of African descent in the United States.

Carlos Flores, chair of the institute, told the World that the organization “questions the separation of Black versus Brown” and is proposing “a unifying Black and Brown agenda.”

“Some Blacks are also Latinos — and that many Latinos are victims of racial as well as cultural discrimination,” he said. Afro-Latinos are here to stay, and “we will not continue to be invisible.”

As if to illustrate, Dr. Ricardo Millet, formerly of the Woods Fund and the Kellogg Foundation, related how, when he arrived in the U.S. as a student from Panama to attend an East Coast school, he waited at the station to be picked up by his host family. Millet waited and waited, but the family did not show up. He finally called them.

The family said they had gone to the station but did not recognize him. They told him they only saw a Black person at the bus terminal, not a Latino.

Afro-Latinos are often “invisible” in the history textbooks of their home countries, too. For example, few people know that the army of Simon Bolivar, the Great Liberator of South America, was composed of large numbers of blacks who joined Bolivar on the promise that his movement would abolish slavery.

“It is the same story in Latin America and here in the United States,” said a musician from the Spiritual Journey Percussion Ensemble. “The contributions of people of the African diaspora are ignored and not recognized.”

Izabel Leme-Harris, host of the radio program “Gateway to Brazil,” said many people in U.S. think that Brazil’s population is mostly white, when the reality is that Brazil has the largest black population in the continent. The marginalization of blacks in politics, education and entertainment contributes to that impression, she said, not only in Brazil but also elsewhere in Latin America.

A member of the audience noted how racism causes “many problems of alienation and division.” He related his experiences as a poor, black child in Puerto Rico. Each day, his sixth-grade teacher called him to the front of the class to ridicule him about his clothes, and to demonstrate that because he was poor and black, he was not intelligent or worthy enough to be in school.

Another person said, “That is why the institute is very important, so that we all know our true history and accomplishments as a people in Latin America and here in the U.S.”

The program concluded with musical presentations from Sones de Mexico, the Spiritual Journey Percussion Ensemble, Africaribe, Nuestro Tamabo and Grupo Yuba, all of which showed how “the spirit of Mother Africa survives in the New World,” as one person said. The audience responded enthusiastically.