Too Black to be Latino

Feature illustration Toussaint l’Ouverture, Haiti by William H. Johnson

When asked to talk about my maternal homeland, Honduras, in an attempt to raise awareness about the plight of my fellow catrachos, I used to share that Honduras was one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Some people would ask me, “Even poorer than Haiti?” to which I would respond, “Well, no. But Haiti’s not part of Latin America.”

And so went my understanding of Latin America and Haiti, until I became exposed to the history of the island of Hispaniola and realized something rarely acknowledged: Haiti is a part of Latin America; Haitians, it could be justifiably asserted, are Latinos too.

The categorization of Haitians as Latinos centers on the definition of the term Latino itself and the definition of the Latino community itself. If all Latinos are Hispanic – meaning they are, either ethnically or culturally, recently or centuries ago, of Spain or the Iberian Peninsula generally – then Haitians cannot be considered Latinos, because they have, of course, a mixed heritage which is much more African and French than it is Spanish. But I don’t define Latinos as being exclusively Hispanic. The name “Latin America,” I argue, should be considered literally: the various peoples produced by Romance colonial powers in the Americas, specifically, by Spain, Portugal and France.

Now, if you are one of the millions of Latinos who think of the terms Latino and Hispanic as interchangeable, if you proudly and emphatically link Latino heritage to rapacious conquistadors, then my arguments will fall on deaf ears. But if, like a growing minority of  Latinos, you view being Latino as something broader and more inclusive – if, for instance, you include Brazil, a nation with a Portuguese heritage, in your definition of Latin America – than you must also include in your definition the country of Haiti, a nation with a shared history with the full-fledged Latin Americans of the Dominican Republic and a people not significantly more Black than other settlements within the Latin Caribbean or along the Brazilian coast.

It may be that Haitians are regularly excluded from the Latin American world because they are francophone. But this ignores completely the word Latin in the name “Latin America,” since French and Spanish, as Western Romance languages along with Portuguese, are derived from Vulgar Latin; hence, “Latin America.”

Also, even France and Spain share a common history and heritage, especially during the centuries of imperialistic expansion in which Latin America originated. Before the 16th century, going as far back as ancient Rome, France and Spain began as the Roman territories of Gaul and Hispania. During the crumbling of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Gaul and Hispania were conquered by Germanic tribes, the Franks and the Visigoths, respectively. Most recently, the histories and fates of France and Spain converged under the Bourbon crown since 1700. In fact, the current king of Spain, Juan Carlos I, is not only a member of the House of Bourbon, but also the (French) Capetian and (Austrian) Hapsburg dynasties.

Unfortunately, I don’t think its French-ness excludes Haiti from popular definitions of Latin America, but its African-ness. Antihaitianismo, normally attributed to Dominicans, is an ideology and practice shared by nations throughout Latin America in one form or another. The argument put forth is, not that Haitians are Black, but that they’re too Black. The Haitian tradition of Vodou – a mixture of Catholic, West African and Arawak beliefs and practices – may also keep Haiti outside the Latino realm, but Vodou is hardly different from Cuban and Puerto Rican Santería, a popular and widely-recognized religious tradition within the Latino community. What, then, besides language, is the difference between Blacks practicing Vodou in Haiti and Blacks practicing Santería no more than 60 miles away in Cuba? To my mind, there is no difference.

Ultimately, it’s not up to anyone but the Haitian people to decide whether or not Haiti is to be considered a part of Latin America. Latino, after all and most important, is a form of self-identification and self-awareness. Given my arguments here, nothing could stop French Canadians, for example, as “the various peoples produced by Romance colonial powers in the Americas,” from identifying themselves as Latinos also. I only argue, however, that we Latinos must stop viewing Haitians as so unlike ourselves, and that, if the Haitian people were to claim the Latino identity as their own, how could we – especially the Afro-Latinos among us – deny their claim?

6 thoughts on “Too Black to be Latino

  1. Well, I’ve always considered Haiti as part of Latin America. I think it’s at least important to note that Haiti was the first country in L.A. to gain it’s independence from European power.

  2. Terms like “Latino” and “Hispanic” (which to most people south of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo del Norte just means “Spanish”) are just political terms. “Latin-America” as a term was coined by Napoleon III to justify French intervention in the Americas… based on the same criteria that you mention. More to the point, he meant Roman Catholic culture as opposed to the English-speaking Protestant cultures of the United States and Great Britain. I have seen French-speaking Quebecois culture considered “Latin American” in some instances.

  3. Crazy interesting! I’ve always just chalked up Hispanic countries to be countries that were invaded by Spain or Portugal. I even didn’t consider Belizians to be Hispanic because they’re mostly english speaking and from what I know (or was taught in our jaded American schools) only know spanish from being surrounded by Hispanic countries. I guess they were colonized by France? I don’t know my grade school knowledge is a little murky!
    Great read.

  4. to my knowledge when you go to haiti you will be surprised how many haitians speak spanish. due to they go back and forth to DR. The issue with Haiti is that they are viewed more as West indian and not Latino, Why ? the article says TOO PROUDLY BLACK! are they white Haitians or to a say light skinned haitians. Hec yes, but because of Haitians history and view of white and or mixed people, they proudly boast that PRO BLACK PRIDE, and less look to there European roots like the other west Indian islands of Cuba PR and the neighboring DR, as the motherland. being that i am mix of both sides of the island i know oh to well the issue, it still part of a prejudice of black is bad and light to white is good, the issue goes to far for this article but if u are latino u know what i am talking about. saying Haiti is not Latino is like saying france is not european, being hispanic is the same as being Latin, we all know it, with that being the case can not Belize also be included ?

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