No Dañe La Raza: The Dominican Identity Crisis
No Dañe La Raza: The Dominican Identity Crises
The Ten Facets of Afro-Latin@ Quadruple Consciousness
Written by: Andy J. Marte
My junior year of college I wrote an essay about having to live in two worlds. On the cover of the paper, I put two pictures that I believed depicted the two worlds I was living between. In one picture, I had jeans, a t-shirt with a plaid shirt over, and a fitted hat on. In the other picture, I had a suit and tie, shades, and a clean haircut and shave. Since childhood, I’ve always been involved in politics and therefore it seemed to me that I was navigating between the professional adult world and the adventurous life of a teenager. College helped me get a better understanding of myself and now that I’ve graduated, I realized that the culture shock I experienced while at college helped develop a racial consciousness; one that was fully awakened when a girl I was pursuing asked, “Where are you from because you’re not Black and you’re not White”. It became clear then that the worlds I was living in were actually states of consciousness formed by race.
More recently, in the midst of social media feeds about the DR-Haiti migration crises, I imagined that as an immigrant population in the United States, Dominican-Americans would sympathize with the Haitian migrant community of the DR. I quickly learned, however, that Dominicans were largely divided on the issue. I looked to my friends and relatives to help defend Dominicans of Haitian descent, but was met with resistance. It was then that I predicted that as the Dominican diaspora continues to grow in the US and in European countries our identities and opinions will be further diversified and this will cause major identity crises for Dominicans.
These identity questions have beleaguered the African-American community and other U.S. Latino communities for some time. But the introduction of Dominican culture in America has thrown a curveball into American life because it is largely a Spanish speaking, African-descendent, community of color at a time when Latinos will become the second largest “minority” group. In 2008 and 2012 we even saw President Barack Obama targeting Dominican votes as a solidly Afro-descendent constituency. Questions of race, nevertheless, are currently convoluted in America because of its melting pot philosophy. In other words, there is a mainstream tendency to simplify cultures and represent people of a particular culture or nationality in one way—the Latino domestic worker or drug dealer, the African-American sidekick or criminal, or the Asian Kung-Fu fighter or gang leader. The reality is that Latinos, like all other people of color, enjoy very diverse lives. Latinos in America live very ambidextrous experiences and they seemingly juggle between two worlds: Mainstream America and their own community of Latinos. This is very similar to what W.E.B DuBois’ called a double-consciousness. In his book The Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B. DuBois talks about the African-American experience in America being one about twoness.
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder (1).
Recently some Latinos have begun to identify themselves as Afro-Latin@. “While the idea of Afro-Latinos generally refers to African-descendant peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean, in recent years greater attention has been paid to the situation of Black Latinos in the United States, where Latinos and African Americans are frequently counter-posed and pitted against one another in a kind of race for demographic supremacy as the ‘largest minority’” (Flores, 2009). Latin@ scholars argue that Afro-Latin@s have triple consciousness, or awareness about oneself through a White, Black, and Latino, or mixed perspectives (Flores, 2009).
Dominican-Americans, like many first-generation immigrant groups, talk about being in a limbo state of citizenship, or not belonging in either the US or their home country. “In the US we aren’t White enough; in the DR we are gringos” is the common frustration by many first generation Dominican-Americans. In my experiences, generally, Dominican is seen as being White or as non-black and therefore non-Haitian in DR, but in America, Dominicans are seen as the “Blacks of Latin America”. However, Latino identity is so complex and elaborate that every experience is different. In an attempt to describe the intricacies of Latino identity, I’ve deconstructed my own experiences as an Afro-Latino and determined that I, as someone born in America with Dominican heritage and acknowledges his African heritage, have a quadruple consciousness that is subdivided into ten facets of consciousness.
The famous African-American novelist James Baldwin said “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” For Afro-Latin@s, we must recognize our complete history in this world and understand that Latinidad is a new world construction of identity used as a political tool. For instance, the word Latino suggests that we derive from Europe only, denying our African and Native roots. According to the Oxford Dictionary, consciousness can be defined as “the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings”. Keeping this in mind, I believe that Afro-Latin@s have multiple states of awareness based on race. The racial consciousness of an Afro-Latin@ is broken down into four states: Black Consciousness, White Consciousness, Native Consciousness, and a New World Consciousness. These states of consciousness are all mental settings and cultural histories that Afro-Latinos have to be aware of as they interact with the rest of the world. Within each of these states of consciousness there are facets of identity that can be further explored. These facets are either experiences or mentalities that one must adopt in order to conform or get along with other people. For example, within a Black Consciousness I have found that I have an Afro-Latino (or more specifically an Afro-Dominican-American) experience but I also have a responsibility to learning and being cognizant about the culture and history of African-Americans. In part II, I will explore all facets of the four states of consciousness and I hope to spark a deeper conversation about Afro-Latino consciousness.
Part II- The Four States of Afro-Latin@ Consciousness
I was born in the South Bronx and raised in Bushwick, Brooklyn to a White-passing Dominican mom. I say white-passing because although her father was White, her mother was a bit darker—hinting at a racial mixture in my maternal lineage. My first known consciousness about race has always been that through which I’ve lived in my mom’s experience, a mother with White skin. My mom had to raise two multiracial sons on her own because early in my life my father passed away while incarcerated. My mother did the best she could to help my brother and I become the men we are today given the few resources she had. She ensured we were well educated and disciplined; we went to Catholic mass, attended political events, and were enrolled in good schools. In order to guarantee my success, my mother exposed me to a White-centric world—or a world that upheld American and European and values. Furthermore, since I was a bastard child, I sought mentorship from White male figures. Thus, I formed a White Consciousness or awareness about European culture, religion, customs and other values associated with Whiteness. Moreover, White Consciousness is undeniably constructed by both the English and Spanish speaking American media, which are also White-centric.
There are two facets of White Consciousness for Afro-Latin@s: White-American and Latin-American. In 2000, I was accepted into a military style junior high school that promoted being American and patriotic. This formed a White-American facet of White Consciousness rooted in American and British colonial history and the English language. I grew up telling myself that if I memorized the lyrics to every patriotic American song and celebrated American holidays I would be more accepted in America because I wanted to be considered a good and intelligent American. In 2001, September 11th reinforced this patriotism and I assumed a nationalistic persona.
While in college, I realized that my University counted Latin American international students as part of the Hispanic/Latino population on campus but that these students were culturally different from the southwestern Mexican population or the mostly Caribbean northeastern Latino population. While Mexican and Caribbean students had an awareness about their Native and African roots along with European roots, these students, usually the elites of their respective countries, had a White Consciousness, or a mindset framed by European history, culture, customs, and values. In addition, during my junior year I took a Latin American History course and I learned about the Spanish colonial impact on the Latin American (Caribbean included) society, education, government, and customs. It became apparent to me that the descendants of the early colonizers were now the elite class of Latin America. The Latin American students that I had the pleasure of studying with were a part of this elite class and I noticed the similarities between them and the class of people that owns and works for the Spanish speaking media in the United States. This discovery made me aware of a Latin-American facet of White Consciousness that is rooted in Spanish culture and language and a history of colonialism.
As a child, I was unaware of differences in skin color. However, I was always interested to know why other Latinos would speak English when they first encountered me. This made me aware that I was different from my White-passing family members. I became more aware of color and the implications of my skin color when I visited the Dominican Republic as a young child. I learned that Dominicans assigned nicknames to people based on skin color and that I was a negro fino. By college, I hated the color of my skin because of what came with being stereotyped (from policing to being followed around while shopping). I grew to love my skin color only after getting an expanded version of the origins and history of people of color. I learned that policies impacting African-American communities were also affecting my family and the Latin@ population in general—all because of racial profiling. These experiences helped shape my Black Consciousness or awareness molded by African/African-American culture, history, customs and other values associated with Blackness.
In my experience, there are three facets of Black Consciousness for Afro-Latin@s: African/African-American, Afro-Dominican and Afro-Latin@ (Afro-Dominican-American). First, my African/African-American facet was not fully explored until I got to college. During my time at college, I expanded my knowledge of my own racial composition because I was exposed to a diversity of races. I was particularly attracted to the diverse African-American students and their organizations on campus. Not only was I more accepted, but I got a better sense of community amongst African-American student groups. It was at their events and in my African Foreign Policy course that I learned that human life stemmed from Africa; I learned about the African roots of my Dominican nationality; I also made associations between the social ills that impact the African-American community and the Latin@ population in America.
Furthermore, my freshman year, I read the book Drown by Junot Diaz, a Dominican-American author who introduced me to my Afro-Latin@ facet of Black Consciousness, or awareness about the impact African culture has had on Latin Americans and the relationship between African-Americans and Afro-Latin@s. This made me research this facet of identity and I realized that he wasn’t the only one exploring it. More and more, Latin@s of color consider themselves Afro-Latin@, or Latinos that were born in America or migrated and recognize their African roots. Moreover, Afro-Latin@s are more in tune with and empathetic to the plight of African-Americans than most Latinos because they recognize that they are descendants of Africa that happen to speak Spanish.
Lastly, although I was born in America, I spent the first 4 years of my life in the Dominican Republic. I lived in a suburb in Santiago with my White, European-descendent grandfather and my mixed-race grandmother, and even at that age I formed ideas about race and class. At this young age, I witnessed my Afro-Dominican facet, or awareness of how African ancestry and Blackness has influenced Dominican society and awareness of Blackness in relation to Haitians. I recognized as a Dominican of color I was someone who was not as desired in the Dominican society and I was someone who was nicknamed based on the color of his skin (prieto, moreno, negro fino or negro lindo). I also realized that people distinguished between the levels of Blackness and that I was Black but that I was anegro fino or a Black man with “good features”. I also learned about my level of Blackness in relation to Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. I became aware that Haitians in Dominican Republic were valued less as people and employees than Black Dominicans. This facet of identity is recognizable to Dominicans of color that travel abroad. Dominicans of color that travel to the Dominican Republic have very interesting experiences while abroad. While Dominican-Americans are generally considered well off and treated like royalty when they are in the campos or their hometowns, in the resorts it’s a different story. In my experience, Afro-Dominican-American visitors are seen as locals or people with less money by the resort workers and therefore are served second to European, Canadian, or White-passing Dominican-American tourists.
I interact with my Native Consciousness much more subtly and subconsciously, but Dominicans are very much influenced by Native culture, history, customs and other values associated with “Indians”. Although many claim their Native heritage, only a few have studied it. I first discovered my Native Consciousness during a History of the Dominican Republic course I took at CUNY Hunter with Professor Luis Alvarez-Lopez, founder of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute. Here I learned that this state of consciousness is most apparent in our food and agriculture (sancocho or yuca) and in our music (a guira), but it goes much deeper than that. We still maintain large parts of Taino culture; we use the hammock and still love wooden furniture—a traditional Taino sculpting practice; we also still exhibit Native physical features like hair texture, facial structures, and brown skin. When I meet relatives from my father side of the family, where I get my skin color from, I am always stunned to see how they have Native-like facial features on their darker skin. My European-descendent maternal grandfather (who I mentioned earlier), on the other hand, also has relatives in his family that express Native-like physical features but they have lighter skin. Early scholars believed that the Natives were wiped out by disease when Columbus landed in the New World, but more recent studies show that Caribbean people have more Native blood than previously believed and it is present in our DNA (Martinez, 2000) (Cepeda, Youtube).
In my experience and research, there are two facets of Native Consciousness for Afro-Dominican-Americans: Taino and Black Carib/Garifuna. When we learn about the native roots of the Caribbean, we usually hear about the Taino tribe; however the Caribbean is influenced by and named after another large tribe presence in this part of the world: the Carib. Both Carib and Taino natives were descendants of the Arawak tribe from South America. Early European settlers only mated with Taino and White women, while the Carib mated with Taino Natives and with freed and enslaved Africans (Pons, 2007). This created a racial caste system that reinforced European control of the Caribbean and put in place a system of racial cleansing. In her book The Spanish Concept of Limpieza de Sangre and the Emergence of the “race/caste” System in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, Maria Martinez describes this racial divide in economic terms: “The Spanish colonial state and the (Catholic) Church expected more tax and tribute payments from those of lower socio-racial categories” (Wikipedia, Casta). This is where I build the Taino/Carib facet of Native Consciousness from, or awareness of how European culture, history, values and customs assimilated into Native populations.
The Carib, on the other hand, mated with other tribes and with freed and enslaved Africans. The mixing of Caribs with Africans birthed the Garifuna or Black Carib tribe. Today, there are still pockets of Black Natives throughout the Caribbean and Central America. For Europeans, these natives were different from Tainos because they reproduced with Africans. “Frank Moya Pons, a Dominican historian, documented that Spanish colonists intermarried with Taíno women. Over time, some of their mixed descendants intermarried with Africans, creating a tri-racial Creole culture” (Wikipedia, Taino). Therefore, the mixing of Native with African is attributable to the Carib people and this helped form the new racial trinity (Black, White, and Native) that make up Latinidad. This discovery also helped me form a Garifuna facet of Native Consciousness, or awareness of how African culture, history, customs, and values mixed into Native populations.
The divide between mixing with either Europeans or Africans led me to conclude that along the way Afro-Latin@s have created a new state of consciousness to participate in a White, Euro-centric world: our New World Consciousness.
In the 19th and 20th Century, America adopted a melting pot approach to assimilating the cultures of European immigrants so that they could form a national identity. Today, with an immigrant population more racially, ethnically, and regionally diverse the melting pot technique is not as effective; it leaves one feeling empty. If you ask a person from Latin America born in the United States what their race is they will say Latino or state their nationality. This is a consequence of not understanding that Latinidad is a constructed ethnicity and not a race. Yet, I found myself interacting with people based on preconceived notions of race and nationality. Therefore, I began jotting down how people classify themselves to try to see how people relate to each other. In one instane, while I was teaching, I had two darker skin students with one African-American and one Latin@ parent (one student was half Dominican) and they identified as African-American only. They said they weren’t “Latin@” because they sometimes felt disregarded by their “Whiter” Latin@ family members and friends. I was unsure of how to respond to them. But these students made me aware of a New World Consciousness, or awareness of all three of the aforementioned states of consciousness but in the context of 21st century racial and geo-politics and awareness that people consciously select or are conditioned to select either one, two or all three of the states of consciousness to interact with others and society. Having a New World Consciousness or a simultaneous awareness of Black, Native, and White culture, history, customs and values and the history between one set of culture et al versus the others can be overwhelming but for Afro-Latin@s it is an important task.
Many of the previously mentioned facets of identity are also facets of New World Consciousness (i.e. the African-American facet is a combination of White and Black Consciousness), but those are racially specific. There are three facets of New World Consciousness that only fall under this fourth state of consciousness because they are all identities with racially ambiguous connotations: Dominican, Dominican-American, and US Latino. Under this state of consciousness, I have a Dominican facet of New World Consciousness or awareness that the Dominican nationality consists of European, Native, and African ancestry. This facet of identity was born during my infancy years while in the Dominican Republic. In all aspects of Dominican culture there is influence from all three cultures—for example, for a Merengue group Dominicans adopted the guitar from Spain, the guiro from the Taino, and the drums from Africa. What makes the Dominican facet a New World Consciousness state, is that depending on which Dominican person I am intermingling with, I have to choose from a combination of the three states of consciousness to respond to how that person has interpreted their Dominican identity. For example, when I interact with a Dominican from Santiago, there is much more of a White Consciousness; when I interact with a Dominican from Santo Domingo, there is more of a Black Consciousness.
At age 5, I moved back to the United States and a Dominican-American facet of New World Consciousness was developed, or awareness that I descend from the Dominican Republic but was born in the United States and awareness that I have been influenced by both American and Dominican values and customs. This realization comes with an acknowledgement that these ideals are embodied by a strong nationalistic sentiment for both the Dominican Republic and the United States and that American and Dominican politics and economics are very intertwined. In addition, there are geographic variations to this facet. For example, in the United States, we have large pockets of Dominicans in New York City, Providence, RI, Miami, FL, Boston & Lawrence, MA, New Jersey, and Reading, PA where Dominican-Americans are slightly different in each city.
Lastly, I grew up in a mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood and so I’ve always been aware that there are other Latinos that are very similar yet very different from me. Most of my girlfriends have been White-passing Puerto Ricans and there have always been interesting interactions between their families and me—mainly because I was a Dominican guy but I also got the sense that it was my skin color. However, through my relationships I’ve been able to learn from Puerto Rican families and teach them about Dominican culture and Black skin. Moreover, in the United States, because of census and civil rights laws, people are classified as Black, White, Asian, and Latino/Hispanic. The understanding of my dating experiences coupled with a comprehension of the US Census formed my US Latino facet of New World Consciousness, or awareness that I am a part of a larger group of Spanish speaking multi-racial people born in the United States and awareness that this group has influences from European, African, and Native culture similar to and different from Dominicans.
Growing up, I always heard Dominicans say “No dañe la raza” and I never quite understood the expression. I knew it had something to do with skin color but I wasn’t cognizant of the history and complexities of the saying. Reading Junot Diaz’ Drown, I learned about the dictatorship of Rafael L. Trujillo and its effects on the Dominican psyche; in my History of the Dominican Republic course at Hunter College, I further explored Trujillo and his use of Haiti and Blackness as a political tool in Dominican society; and at Georgetown, I learned that life stemmed from Africa. With this perspective on history and the deconstruction of my experiences, I now had an understanding of how “No dañe la raza” has been used politically to maintain power for both the Dominican Republic and the United States. I also now have a new appreciation of my identity, nationality, culture, and history. Lastly, by dissecting the Triple Consciousness of Latin@s, I was able to establish a fourth state of consciousness, the New World Consciousness, to help me navigate life in America and give Afro-Latin@s and other multi-racial people a blueprint for identity.
Afro-Latin@s have a special place in 21st century American society as “they are the group that typically falls between the cracks of prevailing classifications, and yet at the same time stands to serve as the most significant bridge across a growing, and increasingly ominous, social divide” (Flores, 2009). Afro-Latin@s can play the role of unifier in an America so racially stratified. We can use our understanding of European, African, and Native cultures to ensure fairness for all three. But in order to do this, we must recognize our European roots and culture but also embrace our African and Native origins. Afro-Latin@s must advocate for the addition of non-white states of consciousness and historical perspectives to school curriculums—like the Young Lords, a politically conscious Afro-Puerto Rican group that advocated for protection of poor people (mainly Black) in the 1970s and were seen as radical because they recognized the abuses of people of color.
All in all, we must help educate the larger Latin@ and American community about the historical practice of denying Blackness in Latin American and American society and the repercussions of that on the African-American and Afro-Latin@ soul. To help in this endeavor, we must identify that we operate within four states of consciousness and that within these states of consciousness there are multiple facets of identity. Our daily interactions with other people are formed by these states of consciousness and everyone should be highly mindful of them so that we can have a racially accepting world.
Andy J. Marte is a freelance writer with interests in health, politics, identity, culture and Latinidad. He received his B.A from Georgetown University with a major in Government and minor in Sociology. He is a 2007 Horatio Alger National Scholar and President of the Bushwick & Williamsburg Young Democrats Alliance in Brooklyn, NY. In college, he immersed himself in matters of Latino identity and founded a variety of student groups, including La Casita, a home away from home for Latino students at Georgetown. In 2010, he gave a provocative talk about race and identity in the Dominican diaspora at the Dominican American National Roundtable’s annual conference in Orlando, FL which featured Sammy Sosa’s before and after pictures.
After a decade of involvement in New York politics, Andy Marte has started a career in teaching. He is an educator and social activist. In addition to education, Andy enjoys Baseball and community involvement. He currently lives in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
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African, Taino, Spaniard: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/326792516682039055/
 Other Afro-Latin@s have different Native facets