LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — As we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we would like to highlight a group within the Hispanic community. Afro-Latinos are often overlooked when referring to Hispanics.
13 Action News host Rachel Moore shows us how Afro-Latin culture is shaped by its Hispanic heritage.
“I took a Latin jazz dance class, which is a jazz genre with Latin rhythms. That’s essentially what Afro-Latino culture is: This community shares Hispanic heritage, but their life experiences inform their rich culture due to their race and skin tone, which more closely reflects their African ancestors,” says Rachel.
The steps in this Latin jazz dance number are as intricate as the story it comes from.
Stephanie Case is co-owner of Moderno Dance Center. Her family is from Panama and she identifies as Afro-Latino, which was a background she always had to explain as a child.
“Oh, you speak Spanish? Well that’s weird. Where are you from.” So it was like my norm because you don’t see as many Afro-Latinos as you see on TV or in movies or in a lot of places,” says Case.
Afro-Latinos make up 12 percent of the adult Latino population in the United States, and about half were born in the United States or Puerto Rico. The other half were born in foreign countries like Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador.
“Afro-Latin culture is often forgotten, but we are here,” says Case.
It’s a common sentiment within the Afro-Latino community.
During Latin America’s colonial era, about 15 times as many African slaves were brought to Spanish and Portuguese colonies as to the United States.
Nearly a quarter of the region’s Hispanic population is of African descent, according to Princeton University’s Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America. But the misconception of what a “proper” Latino looks like physically is at the root of the controversy.
Here in the US, about one-sixth of the Afro-Latino population does not identify as Hispanic. Skin color is an important factor.
“I grew up in a mostly African-American neighborhood, so naturally everyone asks me what I’m mixed with,” says Andre Thomas, a rideshare driver who relocated to Las Vegas from Chicago.
He identifies as Afro-Latino and says his father takes him to Puerto Rico every year to visit family.
“When I was younger it was just about teaching us how to cook Spanish rice and stuff like that. Now they’re trying to teach me Spanish and really learn where we’re from,” says Thomas.
Remembering their ancestral origins while embracing their Afro-Latin ethnicity.
“If you go to any state, any country in the world and you go into a salsa environment, you will see everything. You’ll see people from all walks of life, and that’s really the beauty and blessing of this culture,” says Case.
In October, the Caribbean Festival comes to Las Vegas, showcasing the proud heritage of Afro-Latinos through music, dance, fashion and food right here in Nevada.”