Editor’s Note: On the last day of Black History Month, we are publishing the piece from Fabian. He worked very hard on it, and we are happy that he thought of us to publish it for him.
Latinxs are given a great opportunity to reflect on anti-black racism in our own communities every February during Black History Month in the U.S.
In an effort to take a step forward in purging Latinx culture of anti-blackness, let’s examine how Haiti and Haitians are historically and today excluded from Latinx identity.
The Haitians Are Latinxs Argument
In 2018, Ayanna Legros wrote an article where she asserts that as a Haitian-American she knows she is Afro-Latina, and that other Latinxs should acknowledge this fact.
In support of her claim, Legros states facts such as: Haiti is a Latin American country by definition. Latin America is a region, and its formation is historical, and Haiti played perhaps the most critical role in its formation. And Haiti was the first independent Latin American nation (1804), the result of the most successful slave revolt ever in the Americas. Legros uses all these facts and more to show that one identity Haitians have is Afro-Latinx.
Legros touches at the reason for Haiti’s exclusion, “[Haiti’s] disconnection from the region is largely a result of its embrace of its African ancestry and its threat to plantation economies and European ideals.” Which to me means anti-blackness was at the core of Haiti’s exclusion historically.
This is where white and mixed Latinx culture has it too twisted. The African and Indigenous roots of Latinidad to me are the two most important, as the other root is just the European colonizer. So there should be no limit to how much a Latinx should embrace their African ancestry, because there is no more important root to Latinx identity than the African root.
Some Haitians Disagree With Legros
Nathalie Cerin, a writer born in Haiti, disagrees with Legros and refuses to identify as Afro-Latina. In her article she explicitly declares, “I am not Latina. I am Haitian.”
However, Cerin does not disagree with Legros’ evidence that Haiti is a Latin-American country. Instead, Cerin lists not only the historical betrayals that Haiti has suffered at the hands of Simón Bolívar and Latin American nations, but also current discrimination Haitians face throughout Latin America today, as some of her reasons to not identify as Latina. Cerin rightly asserts, “Any effort to analyze our exclusion or inclusion in the term that does not take these stories into account is incomplete.”
Cerin also says, “She [Legros] is absolutely right, [Latin-American] countries would not exist without Haiti, and these facts are not repeated, studied or celebrated enough.”
While acknowledging that Haitians do have the right to Latinx identity, Cerin says of Haitians, “We don’t need labels of groups that have neither invited or welcomed us… Being Haitian in itself is enough.” And as an indictment and recognition of our failure to value Haiti, Cerin says, “Love those who love you.”
Indeed, if you’ve read a little bit about Haiti, you know that the most powerful nations in the world have attempted to crush it and haven’t succeeded, and that Haitians have stood alone and they really do not need anything from us.
Where Legros and Cerin Agree
These two brilliant women don’t agree on everything regarding this subject. However, a common thread in Legros’ and Cerin’s articles points to who has excluded Haiti from Latin America, which I infer to be white and mixed Latinxs. If we can accept this as true, that it is us who have exerted the oppression, then it is our responsibility to atone for the exclusion of Haiti by our ancestors and ourselves, and to invite and welcome Haiti into Latinx identity.
Speaking With Legros
I speak with Legros about her article.
When describing her intended audience, Legros says perhaps her main target audience was the U.S. Latin American Studies academia. Hoping her thoughts might make professors rethink things and consider adding Haiti to their syllabi, or rethink even the mapping of Latin American and the Caribbean, and questioning whether it make sense as it is or not. As well, she knows her publishing in a Latinx online space would be seen by a Latino audience that would not necessarily be thinking about Haiti or Haitian immigrants.
About the real world impact the exclusion of Haitians is having, Legros mentions an example of how Haitians being excluded from the immigrant conversation can cause them harm in places like Durham, North Carolina.
“When Trump announced TPS I thought damn, where are the Haitians going to go in North Carolina? In Durham… Haitians don’t fit into… the box of Latinx…. There are NGO’s that exist to service Spanish-speaking Latinos that Haitians can’t necessarily access.”
I ask Legros if she had received any racist backlash from non-Afro Latinxs. To my relief, she doesn’t recall receiving hate mail or anything specific like that.
Lastly, I ask Legros what can Latinxs do to welcome Haitians in the Latinx spaces? She mentions that we could educate ourselves about Haiti and Haitians in America, and maybe learn some Haitian Creole. And that overall we need to expand what we think of when we think about immigrants, beyond just one phenotype
When I as for an example of what to read, Legros mentions the 2018 book Detain and Punish: Haitian Refugees and the Rise of the World’s Largest Immigration Detention System.
Our Position as Non-Afro-Latinxs
There is more nuance to this debate than I cover here. Legros has spoken more about the idea in episode 6 of the podcast “The Suite.”
Legros also mentions that identity politics for Haitians are understandably not the most pressing issue. And that the subject is complex and changing.
“There are times I have just checked that I’m Black. Just checked that I’m African-American. Would I expect for a Haitian to check Latinx or Afro-Latinx on the census? Probably not. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that changed over time,” she notes.
I think this resonates with every Latinx. For example, I have identified as Chicanx, Mexican-American, and Latinx. And now that I am understanding more that my Mexican heritage involved the assimilation and genocide of my ancestors, how I understand my identity is likely to change as well.
It is important to note that Latinx as a concept isn’t that old. Which means it is malleable, and that ultimately whether people are included or excluded is shaped by human beings, and therefore is often shaped by our biases and prejudices.
So when we do recognize that Haitians are Latinxs, and when we do properly reflect on why they were excluded, let’s also remember that we’re not doing them any favors. Let’s remember that we are the ones who become better people when we confront our anti-blackness, and that Latinidad is made better and richer because Haiti is a part of it. Hopefully reflecting on Legros’ ideas are a step toward the ultimate goal of becoming an anti-racist Latinidad.
Fabian Chavez is a Chicanx writer born and raised in East San Jose CA, currently living in MA. He tweets from @FabianHorologst.