Black or Latina, Pick one! The choices Afro-Latinas often have to make…
Afro-Latinas have long struggled to be recognized as an equal Latina or of black decent. Many people view Afro-Latinas as not being “black enough” and/or some may think they don’t share the same significant pain of other African-Americans. In contrast, there are fairer toned Latinas that shun afro-Latinas because they don’t view them as being Latin enough. These struggles are also in Hollywood. Actresses like Lupita Nyong’o (Kenyan and Mexican), Zoe Saldana (Dominican and Puerto Rican) and Tatyana Ali (Afro-Panamanian and Trinidadian) all face similar struggles for castings. Nevertheless they are considered as some of the few that has helped to update the image of what it means to be Black and Latina on television or in film.
The Afro-Latina marketability in film is still intertwined with colorism. Being a black Latina in Hollywood suggests that you’re a ‘peculiar exotic’ type that isn’t always eye-catching to directors and producers, who like their Latinas to be fairer in skin. Lighter toned Latinas are often casted for Latin roles than Afro-Latinas. They are often pushed aside to play African-American roles than to play a role from their own culture. And even when they are casted for Black roles, they are scrutinized by the African-American community for not being Black enough. The struggle to fit in can be overwhelming to many.
For Example, Zoe Saldana, a Latina women received criticism from Nina Simone’s family and other African-Americans for casting in Nina Simone’s film. Nina ‘s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, conveyed her discontentment in Saldana’s casting saying, “There are many superb actresses of color who could more adequately represent my mother…” and Simone’s brother, Sam Waymon, recommended other artists of color such as Viola Davis or songstress India Arie could have been a better choice for the film role of Nina Simone.
For so many, it seemed strange for a Dominican/Puerto-Rican woman to play someone with African ancestry, but what they don’t realize is that more than 85% of Dominicans have descended from Africa. For Afro-Latinas to be regarded as not being ‘Black’ enough is an understatement to many Black-Latin women. This sardonicism is stemming from the way race has been created by our society.
Another shocking example to many is that Lupita Nyong’o is a Mexican and Kenyan women, who often has to defend her Latin roots. In a recent interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos for her role in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, she spoke about her Latin origin and gave her entire interview in Spanish. Folks on Facebook and on blogs had serious debates over the authenticity of her Latin roots. When in fact she was born in Mexico and also resided in Taxco, Guerrero and attended the UNAM for a period of time.
Regardless of what the outside world perceived them to be, Afro Latinas embraces their culture on both sides and the diversity within it. And even though it’s unfortunate that Afro-Latinas continue to struggle with this dilemma, especially in Hollywood, it is refreshing that actresses like Lupita , Zoe and many others continue to fight and show their contributions and value as Black Latinas in society.