Designing Afro-Latino Curriculum for Self-Determination


During the 2015 Afrolatino Festival of New York in a panel discussion on the contextualization of blackness, William Garcia briefly mentioned working to implement Afro-Latino curriculum in schools, which greatly intrigued us. Thus, we reached out to him to learn more. His amazingly detailed and extensive response, published below, recommends “looking for solidarity between oppressed people in the United States but also involves questioning African American and Latino nomenclature”. Prior to beginning, it is noteworthy that William Garcia describes these topics as “difficult conversations”. Thus, we encourage critical analysis, respect, and “productive dialogues with parents, students, communities, family members, and friends”, perhaps along with cultural resources from our People of African Descent in Latin America unit.

Designing Afro-Latino Pedagogy for Self-Determination (by William Garcia)

American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future (Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, 1874-1938)

With an increased media attention to police violence there is an emergence of educators utilizing Black Lives Matter as a movement to create and develop curriculums of social justice (Rethinking Schools 2015). The recent article “Black Students’ Lives Matter: Building the school-to-justice pipeline” (2015) posits:

    For the past decade, social justice educators have decried the school-to-prison pipeline: a series of interlocking policies—whitewashed, often scripted curriculum that neglects the contributions and struggles of people of color; zero tolerance and racist suspension and expulsion policies; and high-stakes tests—that funnel kids from the classroom to the cellblock. But, with the recent high-profile deaths of young African Americans, a “school-to-grave pipeline” is coming into focus.

But yet what does it mean to be black in the United States? Am I as an Afro-Latino allowed to call myself Black? Who gets to be African American? Some recommendations from the article include:

  • Provide a social justice, anti-racist curriculum that gives students the historical grounding, literacy skills, and space to explore the emotional intensity of feelings around the murder of Black youth by police
  • Support students who want to have conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement outside the classroom, in school forums or school clubs
  • Raise the Black Lives Matter movement with other teachers at our schools

These recommendations do not mention the growing Hispanic population that is also comprised of Afro-Latinos. Afro-Latinos are people of African descent in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and by extension those of African descent in the United States whose origins are in Latin America and the Caribbean (Flores & Jimenez, 2010). According to a recent poll ‘Hispanics’ will be the overwhelming majority in the U.S., yet there is little knowledge of how race, ethnicity, gender and national identity functions under a nomenclature of Latinidad in the U.S. For many, Latinos are all composed of one race and have little differences between us. The one-size-fits-all approach to Latino students is the approach many educators act upon when educating and interacting with their Latino population. When one considers the census categories, Latinos are denied access into two races —Black Non-Hispanic and white Non-Hispanic— and then categorized as an ethnicity.

A diverse Afro-descended student population mainly from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America has complicated the topic on what it is to be black in the United States. If all Black Lives Matter, then is being black synonymous with being African American? Can Afro-Cubans or Afro-Colombians be black?

Fixed categories of blackness do not allow Afro-Latinos to identify and explore their identities, which creates an invisibility of how policy, especially in the realm of education, has not been developed to attend to their academic needs. There is a need to redefine what it means to be black in this country [Editor’s Note: See Soulville Census: Learning about the Nuances of Blackness]. Essentialist forms of blackness in the U.S. make it difficult for students to relate to the way that we can understand race critically and politically as well as teaching in ways that are culturally relevant for them.

When it comes to the social-emotional condition of Afro-Latino students in the classroom it is clear that they are culturally and racially misunderstood which seems to lead to higher levels of depression in these students. For example, in 2003 an academic article titled: “Dual Ethnicity and Depressive Systems: Implications on Being Black and Latino in the United States” indicated that Afro-Latino females tended to exhibit higher levels of depressive symptoms than adolescent males and older adolescents tended to show higher levels of depression than younger adolescents.

  • Empirical research on the social and psychological adjustment of Latinos of African decent is virtually non-existent.
  • Many adolescents comment were: “People were unfriendly to me”, “I felt that people disliked me”.
  • Many Afro-Latinos are faced with a number of stressors associated with their unique dual ethnicity and double minority status.
  • Afro-Latinos in therapy mentioned also having distress due to having problems fitting in and gaining acceptance from peers at a time when that is a high priority.

Another article that sheds light on how schools in the United States fail to create curriculums for Afro-Latino students is Ramos-Zayas’ “Learning Affect, Embodying Race: Youth, Blackness, and Neoliberal Emotions in Latino Newark” (2011) which concluded in his transnational study that: In Newark and Belo Horizonte (Brazil) only two students identified as black and deployed Afro-Brazilian pride and solidarity language. As a result, their friends challenged their Black self-identification and simply did not feel these students looked Black and accused the students from Belo Horizonte of identifying as black because it was trendy particularly in light of affirmative actions discussions happening at the times. In this study, there was also a Puerto Rican student from Santurce, an urban city in Puerto Rico who felt that Blackness was based on spatial terms, following a “Rastafari” identity or living in Piñones, areas associated with Afro-Caribbean arts and folklore though not with explicit struggles of racial justice and empowerment. Meaning, even when Afro-Latinos identify with their blackness, other students policed and defended established notions of identity.

Afro-Latino Racial Literacy in order to Denounce Racism

According to Ladson Billings (1995) culturally relevant pedagogy is characterized as teaching that empowers students intellectually, emotionally, socially and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills and attitudes. This teaching helps black students develop different ways of being black and Latino in a way that helps the students understand themselves and strive for academic excellence. Howard Stevenson’s Promoting Racial Literacy in Schools (2014) defines the goals of racial literacy as:

    Strategic deconstruction of racial information and knowledge, the building of healthy, cross-and-same racial relationships, the flexible reconstruction of racial identity, the willful, choosing of racial styles and self-expression, and the assertive countering of racial stereotypes.

Afro-Latino students need to master micro-aggressions from Latinos, which is an understudied topic. Much research is needed in order to understand how Latinos reproduce racist experiences through racial interactions. Racist forms of racial socializations remain a taboo discussion topic in Latino communities, which can be extremely complicated, what Derald Wing Sue calls Race Talk and The Conspiracy of Silence (2015), a type of silence which he believes harms society and does not allow productive dialogues with parents, students, communities, family members, and friends.

Afro-Latinos in the U.S. have what Juan Flores called a ‘triple consciousness’, a term borrowed from W.E.B. Du Bois in order to define Afro-Latinos as black, Latino and U.S. American. Afro-Latino students need to be trained to confront racial blindness in Latino communities in the U.S. by first knowing that comments such as: “I’m not racist, my grandfather’s black”, “There’s no racism between Latinos”, “I’m not white, I’m light skin”, “We’re both black because we’re both in the U.S.”, “I’m not racist because we’re all mixed”, “The Civil Rights Movement is moreno history”, “You’re not that black”, “You don’t look Puerto Rican, you sure you’re not Dominican?”, are all good examples of day-to-day experiences of micro-aggressions that Afro-Latinos youth have to confront.

This is a good time to explore the genealogy of spoken word and explore Willie Perdomo’s “N****r-Reecan Blues”, Tato Laviera’s “El Arrabal: Nuevo Rumbón” and “Ode to the Diasporican (pa’ mi gente)” by María Teresa (Mariposa) Fernández, who all explore their blackness and Latinidad in the U.S., can be easily added to a curriculum in poetry. Students can then discuss these poems in connection to their own lives as early as upper elementary schools. Storytelling is a great way to help Afro-Latinos relieve the stress they confront on a day-to-day basis.

This lack of culturally relevant pedagogy for Afro-Latino students is reinforced with the proliferation of white and light-skin actors across media. As discussed above, Latino media produces racial stress, self-hatred, depression and at times racial violence especially by Telemundo and Univisión selling a world of whiteness.

Blackface entertainment, which is still a common form of entertainment in Latin American media, can also have devastating and traumatic effects on Afro-Latino students, especially if family members think it is funny and enjoyable. Because of these shortcomings in Afro-Latino education, anti-black racism and white supremacy in the Latino media has to be confronted by engaging with these difficult conversations in schools and with the rest of the community.

Proyecto Más Color is an awareness campaign started by Sophia and Victoria Arzu, two young Honduran-American women of Garifuna descent. Their project promotes the representation of Afro-Latinos and other minorities in Latino media and campaigns for more diverse depiction on Spanish-language television that includes Afro-Latinos and beyond. Furthermore, Victoria Arzu expresses the fundamental and insightful criticism that is disregarded in the Latin@ community: “People need to remember that Latino is not a race”.

Proyecto Más Color

Introduction During the 2015 Afrolatino Festival of New York in a panel discussion on the contextualization of blackness, William Garcia briefly mentioned working to implement Afro-Latino curriculum in schools, which greatly intrigued us. Thus, we reached out to him to learn more. His amazingly deta

They have written a plethora of letters to Telemundo and Univisión television networks requesting the presence of Afro-Latin@s and other minorities. Telemundo responded to them by saying that they were unable to fulfill the request because it would compromise ratings and because they were based in Mexico. As a response, they founded Proyecto Más Color, which has a created a petition against Telemundo and has accumulated numerous signatures and continues to raise consciousness. In another video posted, “What Am I? (Afro-Latino)”, the Arzua sisters discuss what it is to be Afro-Latinos and confront the assertion that all black people are African Americans. As young students they are an inspiration for other Afro-Latino students who seek visibility and agency. These initiatives have successfully had an impact on a political level.

In September 2014, during Spanish Heritage month, the AfroLatin@ Forum organized a roundtable discussion in New York City to appeal to the U.S. Census Bureau to re-analyze the account of their numbers and recognize Afro-Latino identities.

Afro-Latinos Need Historical Literacy

Recent research by Harvey Graff (Graff, Mackinnon, & Sandin, 2009) suggests a multimodal approach to historical studies of literacy with an emphasis on:

  • Multiple literacies and multi-media context (including multilingual)
  • History of emotions
  • Political culture/political action
  • Connecting past, present and future
  • Gender, social class, race, ethnicity, generation

However, the question to be posed is: How can we cultivate multilayered and nuanced understanding of subject matter through subtle transactions between teachers and learners? According to Sonia Nieto:

    Modifying instruction to be more culturally appropriate is an important skill for teachers who work with students of diverse backgrounds, yet few prospective teachers learn about cultural differences or the type of strategies that can help more students or about how culture may influence their learning. (Nieto, 2002).

Nieto’s useful adaptations to curriculum fosters community-based learning [Editor’s Note: See also Fabian Villegas’ recommendations on community-based learning in Fabian Villegas: Descolonización, más allá de la estética], critical perspectives which can be enhanced by doing research on students’ ethnic, racial, and linguistic background, inviting guests from various Afro-Latino countries from Latin America or the U.S. to visit the classroom, either family members of the classroom or not, preparing students for understanding the history and geography of those countries while relating them to the topic of identity. Socio-political contextualization takes into account the larger societal and political forces in a particular society and the impact they may have on student learning. This framework is concerned with issues of power and includes discussions of structural inequality based on stratifications due to race, social class, gender, ethnicity and so forth.

I also believe that multimodalities are approaches that will ensure that students and teachers have shared understandings of teaching and learning in the classroom (Casey, 2012). This is a good opportunity to mention to students that the conceptual understanding of Afro-Latinidad is not recent. In fact, the notion of being black and from Latin America has been existent for many years. Piri Thomas’s famous book Down These Mean Streets (1967) changed the way we look at race and Latino identity. Piri disagrees with his brother José who is a white Puerto Rican (light skin):

    José: “Poppa’s the same as you… Indian.”
    Piri: “What kinda Indian?..Caribe? Or maybe Borinquén?”
    Piri: “Say, José, didn’t you know the Negro made the scene in Puerto Rico way back? And when the Spanish spics ran outta Indian coolies, they brought them big blacks from you know where. Poppa’s got moyeto blood.”

The novel Down These Mean Streets (1967) argues with his brother by questioning racial democracy in Puerto Rican culture and identity. The fact that Down These Mean Streets, one of the most cherished books of Puerto Rican diaspora literature, questions racial democracy and mestizaje reminds us of the importance of viewing Puerto Rican notions of racial mestizaje with a critical lens. The reality is that it is impossible to understand Afro-Latino identity without having historical understanding of African American/Latino history in the United Sates. Texts such as Down These Mean Streets can be compared with texts such as To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee, which was published only seven years before Thomas’ masterpiece.

(left) Piri Thomas’ Down these Mean Streets (1967) and (right) Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) are two literary productions that explore race relations in the United States. However, Thomas’ masterpiece has yet to become a canon in topics of blackness and racism in the United States.

(left) Piri Thomas’ Down these Mean Streets (1967) and (right) Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) are two literary productions that explore race relations in the United States. However, Thomas’ masterpiece has yet to become a canon in topics of blackness and racism in the United States.

The prominent literature of the African American experience and Black freedom struggles overlaps with what today is known as Latino and American Asian Movements. Many recent studies within Puerto Rican history have explored the development within Black politics (Lee, Flores). However, after the Civil Rights movement, white backlash and internal class and identity divisions broke such coalitions, remaking “Hispanicity” as an ethnic identity that was mutually exclusive from “Blackness”. “Latino” became politicized as both a race and an ethnicity, which erased the long history of Arturo Schomburg, Jesús Colón, Celia Cruz and Carlos Cooks.

African Americans, Afro-Latino and Latinos were pivotal actors within the racialization of “blackness” and “Puerto Rican-ness”. Given the centrality of this issue, Sonia Lee’s Building a Latino Civil Rights Movement (2014) posits that:

    Evelina Antonetty a Puerto Rican had been training Puerto Rican and African American mothers to fight for their children’s education in New York City schools since 1965. Standing at the forefront of the bilingual education movement for Spanish-speaking children, she was at the peak of her political activism. Crucially, she was forging national networks with African American, Native American, and Mexican American parents interested in the community control of education.

Although Antonetty took the middle ground and there is confirmatory evidence of Puerto Rican, African American and Afro-Latino coalitions, identity politics has separated the stories of brave activists, as was the case with Antonetty. As Lee argues, “narratives of white backlash are important, but they do not explain how grassroots leaders of color themselves experienced the overall failure of the movement. Closer attention to class divisions within communities of color (and I would suggest identity politics) in the 1970s indicates that professionals and politicians of color played a vital role in dismantling the coalition of grassroots leaders had helped build” (Lee, 2014). For the sake of discussion, I do not think that Antonetty is less important than Rosa Parks or any other activist that fought for racial and social justice during the Civil rights movement, brave warriors, who dismantled the oppressive nature of white supremacy and inequality during the 1960s.

Therefore, historical literacy involves looking for solidarity between oppressed people in the United States but also involves questioning African American and Latino nomenclature. We need to include Afro-Latinos/Latinos when teaching about the Harlem Renaissance, Black Power movements, The Civil Rights Movement, hip-hop music and Rosa Clemente’s leadership in the more current Black Lives Matter movement. For that to occur, Afro-Latino educators have to design curriculum that can meet the Common Core Standards.

Recommendations for Developing Successful Afro-Latino Curriculums

I encourage educators to design Afro-Latino curriculum that manifests cultural sensitivity, varying perspectives, the complex reality of controversial topics, which can be addressed proactively by teachers clarifying any biases in African American/U.S Latino history that excludes Afro-Latinos. The following list represents considerations when designing effective Afro-Latino centered curriculums:

  • Legitimizes Afro-Latin American forms of knowledge through shared experiences with African Americans and other Afro-descendants (e.g. Civil Rights, Hip-Hop, U.S. imperialism)
  • Scaffolds cultural practices that are part of their identities and communities
  • Extends and builds their native languages (including Garifuna, Spanish, Spanglish)
  • Reinforces community ties with one’s race, nation, gender and experiences in the U.S.
  • Promotes positive social relationships with other Afro-descendants in the U.S. in ways that encompass unity through difference
  • Creates an Afro-Latino self-determination and self-worth (socio-emotional)
  • Promotes cultural and critical consciousness

In closing, I propose a rich theoretical understanding on Afro-Latino student development based on critical race theory, culturally responsive pedagogy and practice. Addressing racial disparities is about engaging students thereby making their lives better. I believe that creating Afro-Latino pedagogy will create a community of practice in which inquiry is a cornerstone of continuous student self-redefinition through improvement in culturally responsive systems.

We need educators to get involved with Afro-Latino students, our history and the way we occupy space in the Americas in order to address this gap in education.


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