Young Afro Latinos straddle both cultures

Young Afro Latinos straddle both cultures

Our Weekly: Our Truth, Our Voice
Los Angeles, California

Manny Otiko

Hispanic heritage month celebrated Sept. 15-Oct. 15

When 2nd Lt. Emily Perez was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, she became the first female African American officer to die in combat. Perez, an outstanding West Point graduate, was mourned by two communities because, while she looked like a Black woman, she came from a Black-Latino family.

Like former POW Spec. Shoshana Johnson, Perez’s death indicates how society’s definition of who is Black is changing. Johnson was championed by the Black media, after her captivity was almost drowned out by the spectacle of Jessica Lynch’s staged rescue. (Johnson is of Afro-Panamanian descent and is also identified with the Hispanic ethnic group.)

Latinos are now officially the largest ethnic group in the United States, by passing African Americans, who for a long time have been the largest and most politically-visible minority.

But there are an increasing number of young people who are from both of these significant ethnic groups. Latinos and African Americans often live and work alongside one another in urban areas, and while there are often reports about the friction between the two groups, sometimes the Black-Brown unions work quite smoothly. Many younger Latinos supported President Barack Obama’s campaign, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villarigosa also courted the African American community…

…Growing up [Shay] Olivarria said that she did not fit in with either of the ethnic groups.

“My mom is Black and my dad is Mexican. I have one full Black sister, one full Mexican sister, and then there’s me. Growing up neither side accepted me. To the Blacks I was ‘exotic’ and ‘different,’ so the girls thought I was a Barbie and the boys were all after me. To Mexicans, I was ‘too dark’ to take home and ‘not really Mexican’ because I didn’t speak Spanish,” Olivarria said. “When I was little, I looked like a Pacific Islander … I ended up spending a lot of time with Asians.” But race is not an issue in her family. “We all get along really well,” she said…

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