LARISSA JIMENEZ & ZAPORAH PRICE
On Oct. 16, La Casa Cultural and The Afro-American Cultural Center, or “The House”, hosted Rosa Clemente — a Black Puerto Rican organizer, producer, independent journalist and scholar-activist from the Bronx — for a discussion about Afro-Latinx identity and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Dean of The House Rïse Nelson and Assistant Director of La Casa Carolina Dávila welcomed Clemente in an event titled, “Who Is Black? Afro-Latinx and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.” The event is a part of La Casa’s year-long theme, “Unpacking Latinidad: Race, Colorism and Radical Solidarity,” and occurred just one day after the conclusion of Latinx Heritage Month, which lasted from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The event represents ongoing efforts to increase collaboration between La Casa and The House.
Dávila introduced Clemente to the webinar’s attendees, highlighting her achievements in politics, scholarship and activism.
“Rosa was the first ever Afro-Latina woman to run for vice president of the United States in 2008 on the Green Party ticket,” Dávila said. “She and her running mate, Cynthia McKinney, were to this date the only women of color ticket in American presidential history… As president of Know Thy Self Productions, she has produced several major community activism tours over the last 20 years.”
In 2001, Clemente published her “groundbreaking” article titled “Who is Black?”, Dávila said. The article “planted a seed” that eventually became “an integral part” of who Dávila is today.
Prior to Clemente’s presentation, Dávila opened the event with a video from Puerto Rico On the Map — a “grassroots media delegation” — that documented the issues Afro-descendant communities in Puerto Rico have been facing which were recently exacerbated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In Loíza, over 60 percent of Afro-descendant youth live below the poverty line. After the largest blackout in U.S. history occurred as a result of the two consecutive hurricanes in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, 90 percent of homes in the town were either destroyed or left without power and running water, or both. In the video, an activist from Loíza, Sacha Antonetty-Lebrón said that Black youth in Puerto Rico have little to no access to opportunities due to inequality. She expressed her hope that the African American community in the U.S. could “establish more bridges of working together” with the Afro-Latino community in Latin America.
Clemente began her talk by sharing definitions for anti-Blackness, racial capitalism and white supremacy with the audience. She acknowledged that her experience in Puerto Rico may be different from that of people in other Latin American countries since it is a “U.S. colony.” She described having found an academic home with African American professors who taught her that “Blackness is global.”
She also emphasized the importance for Afro-descendants to know their history, characterizing it as “the most instructive thing to being part of organizing.” She described how the Trans-Atlantic slave trade resulted in a diaspora of African people; as 300,000 Africans were being brought to the U.S., over 750,000 were brought to Cuba.
Identifying as a Black Mexican, Puerto Rican or Dominican, she said, is “a method of resistance,” because the Latinx community is often viewed as a monolith of people that “all think the same” and “all look the same.” She read excerpts from her article “Who is Black?”
“I am not Spanish. Spanish is just another language I speak,” Clemente read. “I am not a Hispanic. My ancestors are not descendants of Spain, but descendants of Africa … Being Puerto Rican is not a racial identity, but rather a cultural and national one. Being Black is my racial identity.”
In an email statement to the News, Director of La Casa Eileen Galvez underscored the importance of the cultural center’s year-long theme as a way to “foster dialogue and bring focus to invisibilized Latine communities.”
Galvez pointed to Friday’s event and past lectures in the speaker series as a way to gather faculty, students and community members to discuss the “misconceptions and conflations between race and ethnicity of Latines” in America. Past and present topics have focused on Afro-Cuban Americans, Black Central Americans and, most recently, Afro-Latinx identity.
Galvez said that each event was intentionally designed alongside the major events of the year, and she was glad that people from across the country would be able to access the event recordings on the cultural center’s website. These recordings are accessible to anyone who is interested.
Galvez said that she and Dávila, along with Community Initiative Woodbridge Fellow Jorge Anaya, have worked to create educational resources for Yale students to “continue interrogating these important topics” on campus and in their own communities.
One organization on campus, the Dominican Students Association — or QuisqueYalies — emphasize the importance of these topics by being dually affiliated with the House and La Casa.
“We are a part of the Black Diaspora and we do belong in that space,” Yamil Rivas ’23 told the News.
Rivas, who has been on DSA’s board since her first year, was an integral part in the dual affiliation process earlier this month. She said that it would now be easier to host events under both cultural centers, and that the organization would continue to engage with discussions centering the “intersectionality of Afro-Latinidad.” She also said that she was happy the events La Casa sponsored during Latinx Heritage Month included Afro-Latinx identity.