disparaging terms as negrito (little black one), pelo malo (bad hair), or worse are commonplace for this group that often wields little political and economic power in their homelands. Poverty as well as poor educational and employment opportunities are high on the list of concerns to both African Americans and Afro-Latinos. However, the beginnings of a civil rights movement for blacks throughout Central and South America has come about fairly recently and Afro-Latinos are beginning to make some progress.
“In essence, white Latinos discriminate against black Latinos just like [white Americans] may do here,” says Harry C. Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. In order to effect change, Alford believes, “The 40 million blacks in this country need to start communicating better with the 135 million blacks in the Caribbean and South America.”
The good news is, this group is beginning to come together to build a sense of pride in their African heritage by forming organizations and teaching others that Latinos come in all shades. “Blacks have already walked twice the miles we have walked,” says Grace Williams, an Afro-Latino who is president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA). “We’re starting to walk right now.”
Interestingly, efforts to increase awareness regarding Afro-Latino culture and plight can be found on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). At Howard University, Nadine Bascombe heads Cimarrones, a 50-member black student union of Caribbean, Central, and South Americans that recently expanded to include a chapter at Benedict College in South Carolina. Before Afro-Latinos can even begin to link the black-Hispanic communities, more Afro-Latinos must embrace their African heritage. “Within the population of what are considered Afro-Latinos, not all people identify with being black, so they’ll join the Latino organizations because it’s more of an assimilation of being white,” says Bascombe, a junior. “It seems that if you relate yourself to being black it’s something negative, so with that problem existing within the Afro-Latino population, not too many people run towards having an organization with that name.”
Another HBCU, Spelman College, recently hosted a series of lectures, performances, and a conference looking at the African Diaspora and its impact on the Americas. A visiting group of Afro-Latinos from the Spanish-speaking nations of South America discussed their similarities based on common African heritages. “It seems [to be] apparent that Afro-Latins of various sorts see [African Americans] as role models with respect to political participation and economic success,” says Sheila S. Walker, a professor of anthropology, who organized the event. “Their consciousness-raising and civil rights movements were inspired by their knowledge of ours.”
There’s no denying the merits of bringing these groups together from a business standpoint. “If we were to combine the African American and Hispanic community, it means a purchasing power block of $1 trillion dollars,” says George Herrera, former president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “That kind of purchasing power and that kind of strength can basically make industry come