Yes, You can be Black and Latino

27 Sep
Judy Reyes

Judy Reyes

This post was actually inspired by a recent rerun of ‘Scrubs’. In it, Carla is frustrated that people think her baby girl is black, when actually, she is half-black, half Latina. This was certainly not the first time I’ve seen this fallacy, but I was surprised to see it come from a black Latina herself. Repeat after me: yes, one can be Black AND Latino, all at the same time.

I blame the frequent terminology mixup to this country’s insistence on simplifying racial categories. I know from personal experience that being mixed can really make people’s heads explode (I’ve found the same is true for being bilingual. “All those languages in one head!”). We like our ethnic categories clear cut in America, so quite often, Latino=Mexican=Spanish. Yes, how often have we heard someone say, “I couldn’t understand them; they were speaking Mexican”. Or the twin to this family of malapropisms, “Look at that family of Spanish people”.

Combine this with the changing nomenclature for Americans who are descended from slaves, and you have some natural confusion as to people like actress Judy Reyes, pictured above. About the whole Americans descended from slaves thing- as ugly terms like negro and colored were left by the wayside of history, two terms cropped up to denote black Americans, black and African-American. Some people perceive the latter to be a nod to political correctness, but I think it is an accurate way to indicate that someone is a descendent of American slaves, since the word Black could refer to Jamaicans, Nigerians, or Brazilians, among others. For that reason, one can be African-American- like Donald Faison, the actor who played Turk on Scrubs, and also Black, while Judy Reyes is Black but not African-American. She is Black and Latina, like Alfonso Ribeiro, Christina Milian, and Rosie Perez. Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. covered this terrain in depth in his PBS series ‘Black in Latin America’.

And just for fun, here are Carla and Turk dancing the tango to the tune “I’m Dominican”.

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2 Responses to “Yes, You can be Black and Latino”

  1. Chantilly Patiño (@biculturalmom) September 28, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Well said. 😉 It’s been a while since I’ve left a comment here. I absolutely loved the Black in Latin America series and I love Henry Louis Gates Jr. The small fraction that Americans understand about race, culture, American history, etc. is ridiculous. It never fails. You’re so right and I’m really impressed that they talked about this on a national tv show. We’re moving in the right direction, but there is so much education needed and I think the real problem in this country is the segregation that continues to keep whites in their own little world. I can say this from experience. This situation breeds ignorance.

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  1. Yes, You Can Be Black and Latino - November 18, 2013

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