Young Afro Latinos straddle both cultures

Manny Otiko | 9/22/2010, 5 p.m.

Being from both ethnic groups, Olivarria says that she keeps up with the issues covered by ethnic media. "I don't support causes just because they are mostly supported by Blacks and Latinos, however I do take a special look at causes that the Black and Latino media are rallying behind."

A resident of Southern California, Olivarria has also lived in Dallas, Texas, Rhode Island and Philadelphia. She hasn't found California's multi-ethnic culture any easier or more welcoming than other parts of the country. "It's not easier to live here," Olivarria said. "Everywhere is all the same. No one knows what I am."

Autumn Marie, an activist who is based on the East Coast, had a different experience growing up than most West Coast Black Latinos. "I grew up in Chicago, where there are not as many dark-skinned or Afro Latinos, so people always saw me as being Black," Marie said. "Living in New York, people are used to seeing dark-skinned Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, etc. so people are more likely to speak to me in Spanish and think I am Dominican, but even Mexicans here never believe I am Mexican. Ultimately American society looks down on both groups, so that is the treatment I receive either way. But, yes I am viewed as a Black woman, and I am very aware of that and approach situations knowing that. Even if people thought I was Dominican, I would still be viewed as a Black Dominican."

Marie said she had a life-long struggle to identify and appreciate all of the cultures that make up her background. "I was always very committed and intentional about including both of my lineages and refusing to compromise, even when I had to battle the admissions board in college for their racial choices," Marie said. "I had marked both, and they had a rule at the time where they only counted one based on which was less represented at the school. So I have always been very adamant about identifying as African in America, Chicana and Apache. Of course culturally, I always identified more as an African American, because that has been the predominant community that has embraced me, and I have grown up in that culture.

Marie has also traveled to Mexico to explore the African influence south of the border that predates slavery.

According to Marie, both African Americans and Latinos are both oppressed people, and she finds it frustrating to see how the groups fight with each other, instead of creating a common alliance. "I wish they (African Americans and Latinos) would be more compassionate and enlightened to each other's struggle and even just open to seeing the strong African roots in the Latino community," Marie said. "The struggles and political causes are so interlinked, and there is no need to really separate the two. They should equally support each other instead of falling victim to the Willie Lynch ways of allowing the media to pit them as a threat to each other, so it's really just about perspective."