Conversations around race and ethnicity have been prominent in the media because of the onslaught of diverse newly elected public officials. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is one of them. In an interview on MSNBC, she addressed her heritage with respect to her race.
It’s no secret that throughout the Latino community there are three major racial influences: African, European, and Indigenous.
And depending on a person’s country of origin, it has been well-established that one of these influences can be dominant or they can be equal.
Ocasio-Cortez is Nuyorican (a person of Puerto Rican-descent, born and raised in New York). In the interview, she talked about her heritage citing: “My identity is the descendant of many different identities. I am the descendant of African slaves. I am the descendant of Indigenous people. i am the descendant of Spanish colonizers… I am a descendant of all sorts of folks. That doesn’t mean I’m Black, that doesn’t mean I’m Native, but I can tell the story of my ancestors.”
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And she would be correct. This interview launched a conversation on Twitter which highlighted the misconceptions and misinformation of race and identity among Latinos. There were many people who felt like being Latino excludes people from being “Black.” And others who felt that having one-drop of Black blood makes someone Black. Both are inaccurate.
First, it should be noted that “Latino” is not a race. It’s an ethnicity built on the premise of a group of people of different races who share a common language Spanish or Portuguese.
So the notion that Black Latinos “can’t take” from a culture that is inherently theirs is really based on not fully understanding or acknowledging that the largest number of descendants of enslaved Africans are in Latin America Brazil to be exact. Further to that point, Brazil has the second largest African population outside of Africa in the world. Then Colombia, Cuba and the Dominican Republic would follow.
Blackness isn’t solely a United States concept.
On the other side of the coin, implementing the one-drop rule as a way to attach non-Black people to Blackness is equally detrimental to this conversation. The one-drop rule was only a practice found within the United States and was an “unspoken” law that never existed on the books. It was merely a way to stop Blacks fathered by their masters from gaining economic or social wealth by inheritance.
It is no secret that many diasporans or Black descendants of enslaved Africans have European ancestry but that wouldn’t make them white.
Ocasio-Cortez’s validation of her heritage and comprehension of where she falls with reference to her race is refreshing. It is perfectly fine for her to acknowledge what makes her who she is without being deceptive or manipulative when it comes to inserting herself in Black spaces.
Download our Hispanic Heritage Month Meeting in the Box to read about the complexity of Afro-Latino identity in the United States!