By Alicia Sanchez Gill with Luz Maria Marquez Benbow and Lori Robinson
This piece was adapted from an op-ed originally published in NBC BLK.
People worldwide know and recognize March 8th as International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women and girls, to inspire and remind them of their power and capabilities, and to raise awareness of the issues they face everyday in society. Little known to most, there is a similar day set aside specifically for Afro-Latinx women that is celebrated throughout the Caribbean and Americas. July 25th is El Dia Internacional de la Mujer Afrolatinoamericana, Afrocaribeña y de la Diáspora, or the International Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean, and Diaspora Women’s Day.
25 years ago, International Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women’s Day was founded at the First Meeting of Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean Women in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic to celebrate culture and identity and combat racism and sexism. Additionally, during this day, July 25, 1992, La Red de Mujeres Afro-Latinoamericanas, Afro-Caribeña y de la Diáspora (Network of Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean Women of the Diaspora) was born. The day has since been celebrated across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Last week, the organization Vida Afrolatina, in partnership with the DC Rape Crisis Center, made history as the DC Mayor’s office signed and delivered a proclamation declaring July 25, 2017, “Afro-Latina Women of the District Day.” This proclamation highlights the inclusion of people of African descent from Latin American and Caribbean countries in the local government as an important element of the “International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024: Recognition, Justice and Development” as proclaimed by the United Nations. This proclamation was shared at the first United States based Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean, and Diaspora Women’s Day celebration of its kind. We saw the collective power of Afro-Latinx women, girls, trans and gender non-conforming folks, and men, when we come together to celebrate our histories.
It was important for us to mark this day because of the critical issues that are unique to Afro-Latinx communities in the United States and abroad. Our existence as Afrodescendant women is not new but our visibility and our voices have long been erased and overlooked within our own larger Latinx communities. It has often been seen as a bold, intersectional, radical choice to even identify as Afro-Latinx, despite the fact that 130 million people of African descent live in Latin America (PERLA). The double consciousnesses of existing as both Black and Latinx in a world of anti-Blackness and racism geared against both Black and Latinx communities leaves us with a unique identity with which to navigate our own communities and the larger world.
In a world where anti-Blackness is rampant and deeply ingrained in societal behaviors and institutional policies and practices, it was important for us to create this space where Afro-Latinx women and girls could gather and proudly affirm their Black identity while also speaking their truth. We knew that if we created the space, the people would come. And they did. Over one hundred Afrolatinx & diasporic Black mujeres, femmes, queer & trans folks gathered to center our Afro-Latinx women and girls and those most marginalized in our communities.
This year’s Dia Internacional de la Mujer Afrolatinoamericana gathering in Washington DC, included welcome remarks from Joseline Peña-Melnyk, an Afro-Dominican woman who has served in the Maryland House of Delegates for ten years. Literary legend Ntozake Shange was among the attendees. Her book For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow Is Enuf” is being translated into Spanish by poet Mariposa Fernandez, who performed a moving original poem written in Shange’s honor as a closing of the day.
Attendees discussed immigration, child sexual abuse and international advocacy, and suggested other topics of concern to Black Latinas, such as mental health and the realities for Afro-Latinx women and girls with disabilities. During my strategy session on ending child sexual abuse, we shared challenges of disclosing abuse due to cultural expectations, and a lack of culturally competent and linguistically appropriate services for survivors of gender-based violence. Throughout the day, our speakers, panelists and workshop leaders were women, queer and trans folks of various ages, abilities, gender identities and sexualities, representing Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Haiti and many other places in the diaspora.
As a women-led community, we made agreements that we are unapologetically centering our Blackness, as well as centering Black Latinx women and girls, while envisioning strategies for building our sisterhood and brotherhood as a tool for ending child sexual abuse. Men who attended met and also discussed ways to hold each other accountable to ending the abuse of women and girls. Across the country, there is a network of communities of color-focused anti-sexual violence organizations — but none represent the voices and truths for Black Latinx survivors. We are working to change that.
Although there is still a great lack of data about the lives and experiences of afrodescendientes in the United States and abroad, we know through the data we do have and our own lived experiences, that Afro-Latinx people live at the intersections of increased policing, anti-immigrant policy, anti-Blackness, language barriers, discrimination, and exclusion from narratives and from social and political institutions. In fact the first nationally representative survey in the U.S. to ask Latinos directly whether or not we consider ourselves Afrolatino didn’t take place until 2014. And until recently, most Latin America countries didn’t collect data on race. Many have not collected race-specific data since the end of the TransAtlantic slave trade in their respective countries. According to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Black immigrants in the United States are much more likely than nationals from other regions to be deported due to a criminal conviction, due to racial profiling and over-policing of Black communities. Data like this is important—data helps tell our stories and speak life to the disparities we experience. Missing data erases our experiences.
About one-quarter of all U.S. Latinos self-identify as Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean or of African descent with roots in Latin America and this week was representative of the fact that the Black Latinx women and femmes will no longer be ignored, overlooked, or disregarded. El Dia Internacional de la Mujer Afrolatinoamericana, Afrocaribeña y de la Diáspora is a firm reminder that our existence will no longer be erased and disputed.
For more on Afrolatinx history and identity, click here, here, here and here.
For more on Vida Afrolatina, click here.