Today, one in four Latin Americans self-identify as having African ancestry, according to a recent World Bank report (approximately 645 million people live in Latin America and the Caribbean). But, as the report explains, Afro-descendants are “underrepresented in decision-making positions, both in the private and the public sector,” and they “are 2.5 times more likely to live in chronic poverty than whites or mestizos.”
Despite the many achievements of Afro-Latinos since their arrival in the United States, they have yet to enjoy the benefits of full racial equality. The post-racial society — in which the color of our skin no longer matters — remains a myth.
The recent killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, an African-American man, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, has sparked an urgent debate on the mistreatment of Afro-descendants. In order to find solutions to the systemic problems highlighted by Mr. Floyd’s killing we must have uncomfortable conversations; we must confront the existence of racism within the Latino community and within our own homes.
“We have a lot of racism within our communities, and a lot of it is self-hate,” Aida Rodriguez, an Afro-Latina writer and comedian, told me in an interview. “What we need to start doing is having this conversation with our parents and our grandparents, and understanding that where we come from is far more glorious than they told us.”
Is it possible to fight racism with humor? I asked Ms. Rodriguez, who often discusses racism on her Netflix, HBO and Showtime shows. “I think it’s possible, I think it’s important and I think it’s necessary. One thing about Latinos is that we embrace a lot of our conflicts with humor. Marginalized people have always had to do that. … I combat racism with intelligence, with hardened humor. Not weakness.”
As for Ms. Calderón, she wants to use her voice “to tell people ‘No more,’ to say that this cannot happen.” Her message is clear: no more deaths like Mr. Floyd’s; no more discrimination against Afro-Latinos. But her optimism in the fight against racism can only take her so far. Sometimes, one lifetime just isn’t enough. “I think it will be up to my daughter,” Ms. Calderón told me. (Her daughter, Anna, is 7.) “I don’t think it will happen in my time.”
Many structural changes need to be made in our society before the equality and justice that Ms. Calderón seeks can be achieved. As we fight for those changes, we Latinos have a lot to learn from the African-American struggle for civil rights. As Martin Luther King Jr. told the labor leader Cesar Chavez in a 1966 telegram: “Our separate struggles are really one — a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity.”
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