Many Latinxs, especially from younger generations, have come out strongly in support of the movement for Black Lives. For many, they’ve approached this activism from a model of Black-Brown solidarity. But where does this model leave Afro-Latinxs? In this episode we interrogate the question: what is wrong with those signs that say Latinxs for Black Lives?
Karma R. Chávez is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at UT.
Paul Joseph López Oro will start a position as an assistant professor at Smith College this fall. He teaches courses on Black Latin American and U.S. Black Latinx social movements, Black diaspora theories and ethnographies, and Black feminisms/queer theory. His research interests include Black politics in Latin America, the Caribbean and U.S. AfroLatinidades, Black Latinx LGBTQ movements and performances, and Black transnationalism. He is working on his first book manuscript, Hemispheric Black Indigeneity: The Queer Politics of Self-Making Garifuna New York, an ethnographic and oral history study on how gender and sexuality shape the ways in which Garifuna New Yorkers of Central American transgenerational descent negotiate, perform and articulate their multiple subjectivities as Black, indigenous and Latinx.
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Theorizing Race in the Americas: Douglass, Sarmiento, Du Bois, and Vasconcelos
- Paul Joseph López OroAssistant professor at Smith College
- Karma R. ChávezBobby and Sherri Patton Professor and Chair in the Department of Mexican American & Latina/o Studies | @queermigrations
[0:00:02 Speaker 1] Mhm, you’re listening. Toe Latin Experts A podcast of Latino studies at the University of Texas at Austin Latin experts features the voices of faculty, staff and students, as well as friends and alumni of the Department of Mexican American and Latino Latino Studies. The Latino Research Institute and the Center for Mexican American Studies. Join us for this episode of lasting experts episode for What’s wrong with those signs that say, Latinos for Black Lives. I’m Karma Chavez, the chair of the Department of Mexican American and Latino Latino Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and today on Latin experts. I’m in conversation with Dr Pablo Lopez or oh, a recent graduate with his PhD from the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies at U T. Dr Lopez Oro will start a position as an assistant professor at Smith College this fall. He teaches courses on black, Latin American and US black Latin X social movements, black diaspora theories and ethnography ease and black feminism’s queer theory. His research interests include black politics in Latin America, the Caribbean and US Afro Latina Daddy’s black Latin X, l G B T Q movements and performances and black trans nationalism. He is working on his first book Manuscript Hemispheric Black Indigenous 80. The Queer Politics of Self Making Garifuna New York An ethnographic and oral history study on how gender and sexuality shape the ways in which Garifuna, New Yorkers of Central American transgenerational descent negotiate, Perform an articulate They’re multiple subjectivity Xas black, indigenous and Latin X. So, Pablo, thanks for joining me for this conversation today.
[0:01:58 Speaker 0] Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[0:02:01 Speaker 1] Well, I’m gonna jump right in because I’m excited to have this conversation with you. And one of the reasons you came to mind to someone to have this conversation with was that earlier this summer, you sent a tweet that went viral. And I’m gonna read that tweet, and I’m gonna ask you about it. So the tweet said I’ve been observing this troublesome slogan of Latin nexus for black lives for a few days now, and I understand the importance of a politics of solidarity, but at the cost of continuing the erasure of Black Latina, Texas is deeply painful. We arm or than a festival. So tell me what finally pushed you to send that tweet. And what has the reaction been like since he did so
[0:02:41 Speaker 0] Yeah, that was a really interesting moment. Um, first of all, did not cross my mind that it would get a Z many retweets and likes that it did. Um, but I was just really kind of growing really frustrated about seeing the signs. That kind of really for me and vote Ah, particular kind of silencing and Frazier of black Latinos and black Latino folks, Um, particularly around this notion of Latina Texas for black lives. I think there’s this assumption, right that Latinas is not a black person, right? That this person is not a person of African descent or this is not a person already, um, in the movement of black lives, matter which I think has a longer on and and deeper history in the Americas around the racial positive Masisa in Latin America and how we think of blackness in Spanish speaking Latin American nation states. Um, but also I wanted to conclude that tweet with this notion of we are more than a festival because particularly and that was actually me gesturing the kind of the ways in which we understand Afro Latino studies at this particular moment, when we think about blackness within Latino God, it has to go through some type of folkloric trope, whether it be danced, whether it be popular culture, whether it be music, right. So we’re constantly, you know, Celia Cruz is a household name, right? You can point to her being a black woman from Cuba. So these notions of Afro Latina they wanted us to think about well, we’re more than just Americans were more than just a cumbia, right? We’re more than just the kind of folklore tropes of death and music, and black Latinos and Black Latina folks have already been part of black liberation movement throughout the hemisphere. Just like hashtag black lives matter, right? So there’s black lives matter everywhere. It’s been a political projects, in fact, where a number of centuries now in black Latino folks have been a part of that. So that’s where my frustration came from. The slogan itself really construct this kind of binary where, uh, the Latino next person is not a black person, right? Um, and it’s a particular kind of calling for a certain kind of Latino subjectivity into that movement. Um that doesn’t recognize the fact that black Latino people are in that movement already?
[0:05:03 Speaker 1] Absolutely. And so I wanted Thio when we were preparing for this conversation I was talking to you about when I made a similar move with a group of mostly non black Latin X folks in Madison, Wisconsin, and this was sort of during the first wave of black lives matter in 2015 and a group of us got together and we decided that we wanted to issue a statement called Unsurprisingly, Latinos are I think we did Latinos for black lives and I thought I’d pull an excerpt from our letter. And part of the reason I want to share this, of course, is because here I am Chair now chair of the Department of Mexican American and Latino Latino Studies on at the time. You know, I’m a faculty member, and I, you know, I’m thinking about these things, I think. And yet even I made this move and and so it is so I think, prominent. And so I want to read just a quote from that letter, and then maybe just have you talked through kind of the moves that I’m making, and I wasn’t just me is me in about 15 20 other people. But the moves were making in this letter and how that kind of off reflects what it is that that maybe that you’re talking about some of the problems with this move. So I’ll just read a short excerpt here, we wrote. We a society have to abide by policies and structures that have separated and divided us. There’s no natural alliance between us. We recognize that capitalist on white supremacist structures often work to pit us against one another. For example, if poor and working class black folks direct their anger, Latin X migrants who supposedly take the jobs of U. S citizens that keeps the attention off the way capitalism brutalizes all workers. And if leaders in Latin X communities encourage young Latinos to ascend by distancing themselves from black culture, implying that blacks are to blame for their poverty and that no Latinos or black, this reinforces anti black racism, which benefits no communities of color. So and I think you had a chance to take a look at this beforehand, but I wonder if you want to talk about your kind of assessment of the moves were making. There is maybe emblematic of these kinds of moves.
[0:07:16 Speaker 0] Yeah, No, I definitely thank you so much for bringing that, um into the conversation because I definitely had a chance to read through it. And I think, you know, I have to process it, sit with it, right? For a couple of number of reasons. I think the notion of you know the notion of anti blackness and immigrant communities isn’t isn’t unique to Latinos, folks, right? I’m you know, folks certainly have argued in their scholarship that black immigrants are certainly anti us black, right? Anyways, as they use their ethnicity toe to distance themselves from African Americans and particularly African American culture, Um, you know, one of the things that makes me kind of think it’s this it brings me to this notion of, like, black and brown solidarity paradigm. Right. So this this important kind of scholarship that really teases out these moments historically, where we see, um, Brown folks, Latin folks working across, uh, lines right, these color lines that are very much part of, you know, the Jim Crow us, right? So, thinking about that and one of the things that constantly persistent in this is that and the absence of blackness already in Latina, right? So it’s this racial formation off the Latino X identity, uh, subjectivity that just erases black folks, right? And particularly racist black histories of Latina. Right? So one of these moments when we think about these statements or when we think about these moves is that mhm if we were to deeply understand the hemispheric history of black folks in the in the America and understand that Mexico in the rest of Latin America had mawr 10 times more enslaved Africans and their descendants in that region, And how do we come to this moment where Latina sex doesn’t mean black, right? Um, it’s very it’s this kind of legacy and persistence of the project of messages are in the region, right that really, You know, Dr. Juliet Hooker talked about this in her book Theorizing Race in the Americas. But Masisa travels really well, right? Um, Jose Vasconcelos writes really well about LaRocco Zinka in a way that he’s writing and on both sides of the US Mexico border and this notion of a racial mixture that presume some type of racial democracy. Well, the gaps are really clear, right? When Latino folks create a distance toe, other other black communities in the US, right? Um but it’s not only happening in the US, right, It’s happening in in countries, in Latin America, whether mestizos who are in governmental power make thes distancing from black communities in those countries. And I’m thinking particularly, um, in the conscious of Central America where blackness has to come from somewhere else, Right? So to be a black Central American means that you must have generational heritage in the West Indies. Or you must come from the Caribbean. Your you can’t be Honduran, right? Like the national subject of under it is a non black person. Um, so blackness seems to constantly be an alien, right? This alien subject that off potential threat to the national subject. Um, and this is the thing that I’m constantly seeing, even in the us right that even though these these, um, very important moments in the historical scholarship between black and brown solidarity, uh, the young lords are a perfect example of a group of Puerto Ricans in New York City whose political manifestos were consciously not speaking about a racial ization or racial formation. Right? So the young lords are the perfect example where they borrowed from another black political organization built collectively. Um, but the young lords did not have an explicit, um, interpretation of their racial consciousness in those political documents. Right? And I think those are particular legacies off Latin American. Messy saw here, where race is consumed to racial mixture and racial mixture is the absence of race racial inequalities. Right? Uh, the myth of the racial
[0:11:36 Speaker 1] democracy. Well, I think this is interesting. I wanna ask you to say a bit more about the concept of bestie Suhay and a bit more just about that as a concept, because I think, um, I didn’t grow up necessarily hearing that term. Uh, it was absolutely the idea of it, right? The racialized idea of it was absolutely affirmed and my family and all sorts of ways, but there wasn’t a term we talked about. And so would you just say a little bit more about that term just because I don’t know who’s gonna be listening to this and what familiarity they’re gonna have with that kind of language?
[0:12:08 Speaker 0] Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s also a term I also didn’t grow up with Right. So it’s a term that really comes Thio to me, at least in college and where I’m kind of digging into, like Latin American history, wanting to know more about the history of race. What is the history of race in Latin America and so messy has this racial discourse that happens? Um, actually, at the turn of the century, right after the wars of independence in most Latin American countries. So basically piano special, bright, beautifully on this, um, nation states are building right. So after these wars of independence there, you know, they’re they’re free from Spain. They’re trying to figure out, um, what they’re going to be as a nation, as a racial identity as a nation, Um, but in particular as the history of Latin America, once these countries are freed from Spain, the majority population is black and indigenous. Eso a lot of nation states. It’s very similar into when I think about Mexico, I think about Jim Crow. There’s a deep connection there for me, particularly because off how settler colonialism also happens in Latin America. Uh, the descendants of Spaniards become the president’s right the founding fathers of these nations of Colombia, Panama, Honduras, Uh, right are all differences of standards. Right? So here’s a perfect example off settler Colonial List trying to imagine a nation state, and their imaginary took them to this notion of racial mixture on. And this notion of racial mixture is a really romanticized narrative of the nation state. Uh, make sure, um, particularly in the context. Right. So my reference is always gonna be Honduras or the rest of Central America of thinking in the context of Central America. The romanticization is between a conquistador. Ah, Spanish conquest. Our warrior. Right, Um, and a guy docile, submissive, indigenous woman. Right. So thinking about this kind of gendered, sexualized, violent national subject, this is a messy, so right and the mestizo becomes the national subject. Um, and then the pieces, in fact, generationally stay in power. Um, and it is the in the case of Honduras and in parts of the rest of Central America. Uh, Africans are not configured into that mixture right on. And if they are, um, like in the case of next Mexico, they become a third rule, right? Like Sarah Rice, where there’s this notion of they’re in the present, but they’re so diluted into the messy, so subject that they’re no longer Negro, right or African. And if there are black people in Mexico there in Veracruz, right, they can’t be in the capital, right? They’re not in the capital there. Somewhere in Costa Chica there, somewhere in Veracruz, there’s somewhere removed from the center of political governance. Um, so that’s how I see messy. So I I feel like there’s thousands of other people who e really differently. Um, but that’s how I’ve understood it as a za black Honduran as a grief on a Honduran. Particularly when I think about the general generational violence. Um, that’s been a been enacted on black Hondurans and and the erasure of black Hondurans into the national subject of city of what it means to be Honduran. Yeah,
[0:15:32 Speaker 1] yeah, no, I mean, I just think it’s interesting that this is it’s such a controlling concept for so much of, uh, Latino existence, and yet it it actually does require some explanation. And it helps to make sense of how we are across the hemisphere, right, in terms of our racial formations. And so I want I would actually return a little bit thio some of your research and and and thinking about the ways that you do really emphasize Honduras and Central America more broadly, uh, and and think about, um, really, what’s been happening with the migration crisis And, uh, you know, really, since 2014. But of course, much longer with, however, we want to call it the Central American Migration or Refugee crisis and the all all the agitation to get kids out of cages and moves to abolish ice as a result of that. And now, of course, with covert 19 ripping through these detention centers and these horrific conditions. But I’m interested in the way that the visual rhetoric of so much of this crisis has absolutely centralized either a mestizo sort of brown subject or an indigenous subject who’s not black. And I guess I’m interested from your perspective. Does does that visual rhetoric reflect the reality of this crisis.
[0:16:55 Speaker 0] Oh, God, that’s a really great question. S so I think, Yeah, so no. Right. Um, no. There are black white Americans crossing the US Mexico border every single day, and they’re not all the reef, Ana. Right. Um there are creo. They are just black Central Americans, right? Who? You know they don’t get censored in Telemundo, right? They
[0:17:21 Speaker 1] don’t
[0:17:21 Speaker 0] get censored in in the film. Um, they don’t get to be on the cover of the Time magazine s. So I I think there’s a particular kind of racial construction that happens in the US when we think about Central Americans. Um and that has a longer legacy, I think. E think it’s easy for me to think. Yes, Messi so travels Well, this is what makes sense. We all understand Central America Thio have a long history, uh, past presidents, future of indigenous communities. So certainly indigenous folks get really, um, on the front of what we understand Central Americans to be there’s something that’s really persistent, right? And the persistency here is the erasure of black function American, um, and and it’s a persistency that I’m still thinking through. What is it? Right? And I don’t wanna be like it’s messy. Ha. And that’s the corporate. I think there’s something deeper there. I think there’s something where, you know, I think I brought Latino. Does this right? It creates a lot of visibility for black Latino black Latino folks, right? There’s, I think we’re in a moment where it’s like 2020. Yes, there are Spanish speaking black people in the world, right? It’s not a small, you know, not a small community. Um, it’s not, you know, it’s also not your abuela, right? Like, you know, it’s black. People that speak Spanish are not from some romantic past right there in their present, and they’re going to be part of the future. Um, but I do see a persistently ratio. And I think that persistently Racer has a lot to do, Will with the notion of, well, black Central Americans are actually disrupting what it means to be Latinos in the U. S. Um, and in fact, the fact that they don’t get spoken about right, um off. A few folks have reported on the fact that a lot of reporters assume them to be Haitian and assume that they don’t speak Spanish. Um, and there’s this assumption, right with black people that they just don’t speak Spanish, and it’s like we’ll know right, that that is an incorrect assumption, right? Particularly if you’re at the US Mexico border. Um, regardless of whether they’re coming from Central America, the Caribbean or the continent. Folks who’ve been there for months developed language abilities, right? So there there’s ways to communicate. Um, but it’s also this persistent notion of they just simply don’t exist. And I think this is where, um, more work, more scholarship that’s happening now, um is really helping us to kind of disrupt the binary, that kind of guy comic dichotomy between brown and black. Um, which I think is going to be really fruitful when we do think about the new world we need to create, um and maybe the new worlds just doesn’t there. We need to move beyond the politics of solidarity and the politics of visibility. Um, and I’m not really sure we’re at that moment yet. Um, particularly because when I think about the slogan Lucky next for black lives Um, it’s actually professor your mind. Feodor who helped me think through it because I was really pissed. I was really pissed when I saw that e was just thinking because I was like, What do you mean? We’re we are black lives, right? Not in a moment of not in a moment of like all Latinos people are black, right? Which is also kind of this also really problematic notion, right, That I think, um, aoc spoke about Ocasio. Cortez spoke about like, um, her subjectivity being Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Like she understood herself to always be black as well. Um, so I do think there’s something interesting there around thinking of, like, the slogan Latina, extra black lives pushing this notion that all all Latinos are black feels very mysterious ahead to me. Um, so that’s a little like I don’t know if that, but there’s something that professor figured out. Help me think through. Well, well, what does it mean when ah, white Latinos person or a mestizo Latinos person wants to actually be in solidarity and actually want, um, black lives to matter in their families and their households in their communities? And And I have to start thinking about Well, how generative is this slogan, but also at kind of a double edged sword. Um, what is it about the eraser that’s happening, right? Because, you know, for for Latina, because of African descent, our black lives have always been in contestation, right? And not just Latino, right, but one of the things about, um being black Latino Next is that our read isn’t always lati next, right? And
[0:21:58 Speaker 1] our
[0:21:58 Speaker 0] read is simultaneous. And our read is not easily interchangeable, depending on the scenario, depending in the space.
[0:22:06 Speaker 1] Yeah, yeah, that’s I’m you really cover the last few things I wanted toe be able to address with you, which is great, because unfortunately, we are out of time. But thank you so much for joining me for this conversation today. I really, really enjoyed it.
[0:22:21 Speaker 0] Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate your time And Theo Invitation?
[0:22:26 Speaker 1] Absolutely. Hi. All things is actually novel Montero’s, the communications associate A Latino studies. Thank you for listening to this week’s episode. Make sure to check out the Latino studies Instagram page. Follow us at Latino studies. You t to keep the conversation going