Afro-Latinx Poetry Issue – Letter from the Editor

Afro Latinx Poetry

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
___________________________

Jasminne Mendez


“Hey, Willie. What are you, man?
No, silly. You know what I mean: What are you?
I am you. You are me. We the same. Can’t you feel our veins drinking the
same blood?
-But who said you was a Porta Reecan?….
-I thought you was a Black man.
-Is one of your parents white?
-You sure you ain’t a mix of something…
-Naaaahhh. . .You ain’t no Porta Reecan.
-I keep telling you: The boy is a Black man with an accent.
If you look closely you will see that your spirits are standing right next to
our songs.”

Willie Perdomo in The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States

“What are you?”

I get asked time and time again. I am an Afro-Latina with big hair and a don’t care attitude who is too dark to be considered Latina by Hollywood’s standards and too light to be considered just black.

“Where are you from?”

I have been asked this question for the last twenty years since I moved to Texas at thirteen. Here, no one understands how a black girl can speak such good Spanish.

Two questions that crawl under my skin and make me want to explain the history of the slave trade to everyone nearby. But I often swallow my rage and refrain from becoming the “angry black woman” or the “impassioned Latina.” I smile and simply say, “I am Dominican.”

I did not have the privilege of growing up in Washington Heights or Miami, around a community of Dominicans. As a military brat, my family moved around a lot and we lived mostly in the South. We always identified as Dominican, never as black. That is due to complicated Dominican history thanks to good ole Trujillo and Spanish colonialism. During my early teenage years, I heard my father refer to himself as un negro. I am not sure what made him say it, but I know Sammy Sosa was at the height of his career, (before the problematic skin lightening) and I think that had something to do with Papi’s newfound love of his blackness.

Up until then, we had always been Dominican and as far as I was concerned there WAS a difference between being black and being Latina. As a Latina, I spoke Spanish and came from a different country than my black friends all together. Mami and Papi always insisted we weren’t American or black, but we were Dominican and somehow that was different. In my early twenties, in college, I heard the term Afro-Latina and finally felt like I had a real identifier. I was no longer the black girl who somehow knew Spanish, I was Afro-Latina—a very clear mix of Latinidad and blackness. Even though I finally had a name, a label, for what I was. Yet the rest of the world still has not discovered who we are. Afro-Latinos have been ignored in the media, in the arts, in literature, and in the world.

If you ask most people to name an Afro-Latinx writer, the only name that likely comes to mind is Junot Diaz. While he has done a great deal to elevate Afro-Latinx narratives and make way for upcoming poets and writers of color through his work with the VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation, his one voice is not enough. His work only speaks to a singular cis hetero male narrative. We need more poems, stories, songs, movies and representation from Afro-Latinx female, LGBTQ+, and disabled artists and writers who can share different perspectives. Young Afro-Latinx children and teens need to see their stories and their faces in books they read and in media.

What it means to be Latinx in America is changing. With breakout Hip-hop and reality television stars like Cardi B (Belcalis Almanzar) and Amara La Negra taking social media by storm in the last few months and being vocal and unafraid to confront misconceptions about their Afro-Latinidad. The world is starting to take notice that we exist. That anti-blackness, colorism, and racism in the Latinx community are real and it needs to change, Blackness and Latinidad are not mutually exclusive. We have been and deserve to be a part of the Latinx community and we should be better represented.

 

Twenty-four percent (24%) of U.S. Hispanics identify as Afro-Latino but we are not proportionally represented in books, television, and film featuring Latinx characters. Only last year, in 2017 the oldest AMERICAN Spanish language TELEVISION news PROGRAM in the united states, Noticiero Univision, hired an Afro-Latina anchor (Ilia Calderon) for their evening news.

 

We need to be seen. The U.S. and Latinx television, arts, and culture have failed to give us space and time we deserve and I am tired of it.

Recently I curated a list of 10 Afro-Latinx Poetry Books You Need Right Now in response to the “Best of Latino Lit” articles being circulated in U.S. literary communities. Most of the articles did not address nor include Afro-Latinx writers. That response was a great start.

Our work deserves to be read often and in as many venues as possible. I hope to showcase and amplify the stories and the work of Afro-Latinx poets in a broader way. It shouldn’t take publishing a book to get your words and your work out in the world.

This issue focuses on poetry. I believe that poetry is the genre that brings us closer to the drums and the rhythms and the heart of the music of our African ancestors. Like Willie Perdomo says “your spirits are standing right next to our songs.” Poetry asks us to transcend language and find the music in ourselves that speaks to our dreams, our fears, our complex identities, our blackness and everything that makes us human. Poetry is where we find music and where we can praise the music that has made us who we are.

Mi respeto al tambor.
Bow my head/to the gods & ancestors
Living
in the beat of my veins.

Whether we praise the conga or the tambor like Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez’ “Bomba” or whether our poems highlight our strengths and haunt us beyond the page and the grave such as in Malcolm Friend’s poem “El Conde Sings ‘Babaila’ when he asks us, Have you ever heard a prieto sing, wonder what’s a casket but the back of a mouth, place where every suena rests?

Poetry can guide us back to our origin. In “Lady Sings the Blues” by Darrell Alejandro Holnes we are reminded that “There is no word for a parent who loses a child, / Only a sound, a howling after which nothing-same remains.” Holnes takes us to the origins of language, to the rhythm, and to the sounds we carry within us when language fails.

Each poem in this issue is a song. these poems sing loud. I am excited and honored to share these poems with you.

I believe each one of these poems will give you the strength to get you through the next time someone asks, What are you? Where are you from?

Abrazos & Blessings,

Jasminne Mendez

THE AFRO LATINX POETRY ISSUE LAUNCHES ON FRIDAY, MARCH 2, 2018. 
Jasminne Mendez received her B.A. in English Literature and her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. Mendez has had poetry and essays published by or forthcoming in The Acentos ReviewCrab Creek ReviewTexas Review, La GaleriaLabel Me Latino/a, Gulf Coast Magazine, Bird’s Thumb, The Rumpus and others Her bookIsland of Dreams (Floricanto Press, 2013) was awarded Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book by the International Latino Book Awards in 2015. She is a 2016 VONA Alumni, a Macondo Fellow, a 2017 Canto Mundo Fellow and an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at the Rainier Writer's Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Her second bookNight-Blooming Jasminne: Personal Essays & Poems(Arte Publico Press) will be out in Spring 2018. You can learn more about her work at www.jasminnemendez.com.

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