Dr. James Jennings
Why is identifying as a Black Latino/Afro Latino important to you?
*There are two responses that I will offer. Acknowledging and celebrating one’s roots brings self-respect. If you are going into an educational system where your culture is not celebrated or acknowledged it is difficult to then, navigate society. If you are grounded in self-respect and self-determination you are grounded to face the challenges in society.
The second reason that I would offer is what we are doing in conversations like this, advancing a discourse on Afrolatinism, is creating space for Afro Latino/a youth to acknowledge their roots. Afro Latino/a youth do not have the space to speak about this in a system that degrades them, and other youth of color. This discourse allows them to ground themselves in their cultural roots and helps build confidence about who they are and not feel ashamed. They are not taught of their complete Latino experiences and how to expand on what it is to be Latino in this country.
What has been the impact, both positive and negative of people not seeing you as a Black Latino/Afro Latino?
*One, Afrolatinism is a critical component of African American culture and history but it is overlooked. This is why the Afro Latino Reader; History and Culture in the US edited by Miriam Jimenez Roman and Juan Flores is so important. A quick example: Arthur Schomburgh of the Schomburg library in NY is much known. What many did not know till recently more widely acknowledged, that his name was actually, Arturo, a Puerto Rican!
I think consciousness about the Afro Latino experience within the African American culture is getting better but in the past it has been overlooked in Africana Studies Departments and mainstream Language and History Departments who overlook and I might even say, may have been threatened by it.
The Afro Latino experience explodes the class defense. When you look at history, culture, and community organizing, you can’t use class to deny or minimize race. Understanding Afro Latino experiences exposes that class, while fundamental, cannot be used to obfuscate the existence and impact of race.
A negative scenario that is real: How in Puerto Rican society a racial hierarchy was made invisible. The common narrative was (is?) that White is more beautiful, white is smarter, black is not good and black is not smart. Writers like Samuel Betances have explored this situation. And the Young Lords exposed it when they tried to organize youth in Puerto Rico.
How do you Amplify/show up in a Latinx world that expects us all to look like J.Lo and Marc Anthony?
*Cultural consciousness and cultural resistance is important for our youth. That is why BPS is in a critical position to teach all youth, Afro Latino youth who they are. Community based and progressive organizing around the issues facing Latinos, Blacks, Asians, and non-1 percent Whites can build bridges. These bridges become important for people to see who they are and how they can insist on acceptance in a democratic society regardless of how commercialized media has decided to define what is Latino or Latina. But, it can’t only be, I want a piece of the pie. The piece of the pie approach is not progressive. It has to be about how do we build power to benefit all people, and such building of power brings forth the question of, who I am and how do I respond to myself. Grassroots and progressive organizing can also put pressure on individuals who are being used to push a narrative that is a-historical in terms of who is, or who is not Latino/a.
Message for BHM – This is an opportunity to continue to remind ourselves and others that the Black experience, the African American experience, is the core of the American experience. However, it is important to connect this core experience with the African Diaspora, that is reflected in everything about Latin America, the and the Caribbean, and the world.
BHM is not just about African American but also how it is connected to the African diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean and really throughout the world.
If we really want to understand the Black experience in this country, then it is important to also ask about the African diaspora, and this is where knowledge and appreciation of Afro-Latinism emerges and expands our collective understanding.
BIO: James Jennings, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University. James has worked with a range of Black and Latino community-based organizations in Boston and other communities in Massachusetts, and New York City since the 1970s in the areas of housing, education, youth and local economic development. He has published widely on challenges facing both Black and Latino communities. (See his website: https://sites.tufts.edu/jamesjennings/ for examples of his research and work). Up to his late teen years he was raised in Brooklyn, NYC and also in the La Lugana , part of old Rio Piedras in Puerto Rico where he spent many summers with his abuelita, Esperanza Guzman.