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Blaxican: The Revolutionary Identity of Black Mexicans

  • "The Afro-Latino term felt like home. There was finally a term that described what all of this was. It was a group of people who felt like I was feeling. I was finally able to identify with a group of people and it was a relief."

Published 29 July 2015

Walter Thompson-Hernandez shares with teleSUR English the often-forgotten faces and stories of Black Mexicans, or Blaxicans, in the United States.

Walter Thompson-Hernandez often sees a reflection of himself in the stories his camera captures. Boldly staring into the lens of his camera, Black Mexican, or Blaxican, men and women slowly unveil a bit of themselves to him.

"I ethnically identify as Afro-Mexican. Racially, I embrace my Blackness as here in LA that is typically how I am read and what my experience is,” reads one of the photo stories now available on Instagram gallery known as “Blaxicans of Los Angeles.”

“The identity of Afro-Mexican acknowledges my African roots as well as the land we live on, though claimed by America, belongs historically to indigenous Mexican peoples.”

As the child of an African-American father and a non-black Mexican mother, the stories resonate with Thompson-Hernandez who started the Instagram page as an academic research project for the University of South Carolina, but found himself personally drawn to the project to understand the complexities of race and ethnicity in a country that often sees both as one and the same thing.

“When we think of race, people tend to conflate ethnicity and race, and tend to think of the two as one,” he told teleSUR.

“We have to recognize that Blackness in this country is usually described and understood in the African-American experience. We cannot sit here and exceptionalize that experience,  we have to recognize other experiences like that of Afro-Latinos, who are often not considered Black in this country.”

RELATED: Meet Miles Morales, Marvel's First Black Latino Spider-Man

Experiences like these, according to the researcher, challenge the rigid definitions of race in the U.S. and allow people to understand that ethnicity and race are distinct, albeit possibly intersecting experiences. Afro-Mexicans, in this sense, “represent a very distinct population who see the world in a different lense. Their music, their culture, their food, might be Mexican but it's also distinctly from the African experience, the fusion of African ancestry.”

The project is aimed at a Latino audience, he says, with the hope it can diversify and complicate the idea of what it conventionally means to be Mexican--”that often is a mestizo, with fair skin and dark hair,” he added.

In what Thompson-Hernandez described as a “strictly segregated city,” Afro-Latinos are often integrated in both African-American and Latino communities in Los Angeles. But he laments that as a result they are often forced to identify as either one or the other.

These personal stories show that in fact “You can be both Black and Mexican, you don't have to choose” and “what that allows people to do is recognize their wholeness.”

For Thompson-Hernandez to claim the Blaxican identity is a “political and revolutionary act,” adding that people are challenging U.S. racial classifications. “I am not just African-American, I am not just Latino, I am actually Blaxican,” he said.

Last month’s announcement that Miles Morales, an African-American Puerto Rican, will replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man in the Marvel comics, works to bring positive visibility to the existence of Black Latinos in the country, Thompson-Hernandez said.


"We're both half Black and Puerto Rican. And we've been best friends for a long ass time." ��: @mychivas #afrolatino #losangeles #OrgulloLatino #blackisbeautiful

A photo posted by Blaxicans of Los Angeles (@blaxicansofla) on

However, the gap between positive representation and the reality of racial inequality and violence faced by African-Americans, Latinos--and those at their intersections--also cause young people of color to live “in a state of confusion,” he cautions.  

“You have relatives that are being deported and you have relatives that are being gunned down on the street because they are Black,” Thompson-Hernandez explained.

RELATED: Anti-Blackness in Latin America is Real: Colombian Hip-Hop Group

For Blaxicans, and Afro-Latinos in general, this means they have an important part to play in bridging struggles for racial justice in the United States as they are able to highlight how issues converge and connect.

While this might promise a possibility for multiracial and multiethnic coalitions, Thompson-Hernandez believes, a lot of work also needs to be done to resolve ethnic tensions among and between the different African-American and Latino communities.

“Any conversation on race and Latinos has to involve that Latin America had this long history where they have discriminated against Afro-Latinos,” he said on the task of making the issue of anti-Black racism a speakable topic in Latino communities.

This includes challenging both the historic views about race particular to Latin America and those adopted upon migration to the United States. Similarly, he detects the challenge of combatting negative Latino myths and stereotypes among African-Americans who often believe Latino immigrants are there to steal their jobs.  

A person openly identifying as Blaxican and Afro-Latino generally could play an important part in both “redefining their position in the community” while also “saying listen, I am a Blaxican, I am a representative of African-Americans and Latinos we need to find a way to get along.”

At the same time, inter-ethnic conflict works as a deviation from the root problem that truly lies at the heart of common struggles for social justice, Thompson-Hernandez said.

“In the U.S., the history of racism against people of color often divides people of color, and I think that is where the attention should be. Not on this conflict between African-Americans and Latinos, but really on the systemic oppressions and systemic racisms that pervades in this country.”

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