Far too often Black identity is made to seem monolithic. There is one Black experience and one Black way of doing things. It is true that Black identities are shaped by shared historical and everyday experiences of race – Black folks are targeted by all kinds of violence because we are Black and in the face of that violence, we remain resilient and dope anyway, because we are Black. Yet to be Black is to also have ethnicity, meaning there are cultural varieties of the Black experience. There are ways of living as Black people that are related yet different. One way to think of it is that there are many ways of eating rice and beans and beans and rice. There is a version of Blackness that gave birth to icons like Arturo Schomburg and Marta Morena Vega and iconic movements like hip hop. Indeed, one word could never capture it all, but it is often called Afrolatinidad. In the following poignant reflections author Kiah Glenn, describes her experience with this variety of the Black experience. To be Afrolatinx often means being rendered invisible in both Black and Latinx communities—never being enough for either. To be Afrolatinx and Muslim also comes with a similar kind of misrecognition. The face of “Latino Islam” is often never Black and the anti-Blackness of Latinx communities seeps into Latinx Muslim spaces. And in the face of these challenges, according to Glenn, to be Afrolatinx and Muslim is to remain resilient and dope anyway.
By Kiah Glenn
It is arroz con gandules
It is pastelillos out the grease
It is malta and platano chips
It is sun-warmed coconuts
It is coquis in summer
It is “bendición,” when you answer the phone.
It is loud hellos and long goodbyes
It is my mother telling the salon owner we will never come back
because her daughter doesn’t have “pelo malo” and how dare you.
It is “But you don’t look, Latina. You just look, Black”.
It is Puerto Rican Day Parades with my madrina
It is Three Kings Day with cousins
It is Marc and Celia and cleaning on Saturdays.
It is always my Mama’s warmth and her carrot cake
It is “We aren’t coming to your wedding”
It is “But we are ALL Latinos, don’t make it about race”
It is “Latinos aren’t Muslims” and “Afro-Latinos aren’t real”
It is the first Quran in Spanish that makes me cry
It is ¡Feliz Ramadan！
It is Eid Mubarak mi amor.
It is hijabs for Christmas
It is Insha’Allah muñeca to my daughter
It is bacalao for iftar
It is salsa dancing in my khimar
It is all of these things
It is so much more
Making a Place When the table isn’t Set for You
When I was a child, I thought every family was like mine: a mosaic of skin colors and hair textures. But, as I grew older, things changed. When I was 14 and in Miami with my family, I vividly remember how the White Cuban shop owners would respond to my mother and brother when they walked in. And then, how their tone would switch when they noticed my father and me following closely behind. I also remember a time when I called my mother to tell her that the stylists at the Dominican hair salon made disparaging comments about my hair. How she came in, told them off, and how we made the decision to never go back there again. I can still recall the countless times people would look at me quizzically when I told them that I am Latina. How they would then quickly inform me that “I only looked Black.”
When I became Muslim, my existence became even more complex. The erasing, warping and hypersexualizing of my race, ethnicity and gender increased with this new religion. I was again, but even more so, this “poor thing” who needed to be saved, freed, owned by the White other. These days I often feel alone, my identity swinging with my body as it moves through spaces. Do I say Afro-Caribbean? Afro-Latinx, Afro-Taino? What word captures it all? Can it be captured at all? Should I just say Black, multiracial, multiethnic?
This balancing act of being Black, Muslim and of Latinx heritage means what it has always meant for those at the margins of society. It means advocating for and creating a space for ourselves. It means calling white Latinx folks out on their anti-Black racism and calling out Black folks when they fail to include Afro-Latinx folks as a part of the diaspora. It means battling Islamophobia, and misogynoir, from both sides. Persistently calling out non-Black Muslims and reminding them that there would be no Islam in America without the legacy of Black Muslims. It is highlighting that Latinx Muslims have been here, creating and building community since the 1980s. It is affirming that I don’t have to become “Arabized” to exist in Islam.
“So I create a tribe of my own and tell my children who they are. Who their people are.”
So I create a tribe of my own and tell my children who they are. Who their people are. I braid Taino words, Puerto Rican and Cuban food, Afro-Caribbean music and Islam into their lives. If I am honest this work is beautiful, hard and exhausting. Yet, I am hopeful that all the work that I and other Afro-Latinx Muslims are doing will make it so my children will have less to do. When I see conversations about Afro-Latinx identities happening on large platforms or Afro-Latinx folks saying “Yes, us too!” in conversations about Latinos in Islam. Or when I see Qu’rans in Arabic and Spanish, I breathe easier and think of all the possibilities that are to come. Being Black, Latinx and Muslim should never equal feeling odd or out of place. So, I continue to claw my identity out of the hands of others. To push forward and create space for myself and the beautiful mosaic that I represent and come from.
Editor’s Note: We want to acknowledge that the term Latine is now the preferred term for people with origins from Spanish-speaking countries.
Featured Image Credit: Dare Kumolu-Johnson
Kiah Glenn is a native of New Jersey and currently lives in North Carolina. She works in higher education supporting students of marginalized identities and serves as a trainer and campus educator. She loves anime, reading and cooking. She is also the mother of two little humans. “Back that ass up” is her anthem and response to anyone who steps outta line.