The Mulatto Challenge

In March the Pew Research Center published the results of a survey of Afro-Latinos’ views on their racial identity, “Afro-Latino: A deeply rooted identity among U.S. Hispanics however, the results belie the headline:  

“When asked directly about their race, only 18% of Afro-Latinos identified their race or one of their races as black”

“. . . two-thirds of Latinos (67%) say their Hispanic background is a part of their racial background.”

Far from showing a deep-rooted affinity for the term “Afro-Latino” the survey findings are confusing to say the least.  The readers’ comments on the article are even more confounding, comments such as:

“This [survey] is so inaccurate. I am Venezuelan and consider myself morena or tan, and I am not Afro Latina. Misinterpreting data helps no-one.”


Forget about getting on the same page with this commenter, I have to ask whether we are reading the same book.

The modern consensus among most anthropologists and scholars on issues of race is that it is a social construct.  We reject the notion that race and appearance come with inherent biological deficiencies or perfections.

What this survey truly illustrates is the dichotomy between how Latinos and Americans have construed race in their respective societies.

In America the “one-drop rule” first adopted in Tennessee in 1910, states that any person with any amount of African ancestry is considered black.

In Latin-America race is a function of appearance and there is a virtual “grading” system that takes you from black to white.

This is why in America people do not call themselves Octoroons (someone having one-eighth black ancestry) but in a Spanish-speaking country it is quite natural to identify as mulatto, or trigueño, etc.- terms that attempt to describe your complexion as well as  any observable European features you may have.

Any polite conversation on race would end with these historical observations, “You say tomato, I say toma-toe” but polite conversation gets us nowhere, or worse yet it produces comments like the one from our Venezuelan friend.

I am asking my readers to question why we Latinos continue to use racial identifiers such as mulatto, jabao, and the multitude of terms first coined by western Europeans to validate the inferiority of black people and therefore slavery.

By the way, have you ever heard a white person call him or herself an Aryan before? This term also gained popularity during the late 19th century. The only people who still use this term today are called Nazis and neo Nazis.

All of these racial classifications were used to divide and oppress people. We Latinos can let go of these terms and the culture they reinforce.

A culture that continues to breed a sense of inferiority within our community, because whether consciously or unconsciously, that Venezuelan commenter is ascribing an unspoken superiority to herself by identifying as “tan” instead of Black.

Don’t be afraid to comment on this article what do you think? Should Latinos stop using these race classifications? Should they be replaced with the term Black, Afro-Latino etc?


  1. Thank you for your comments. It is important to note that there is a difference between nicknames and what you claim as your official racial identity. The question is, are “el chino” or “el jabao” black men who would say yes we are black? Black is Beautiful.



  2. While working in a Census,I was conducting an interview in a house and when the question of race arrived the young fellow answered was: I am a MAYA.I was really impressed that this young fellow were so proud and conscious of who they are.
    At my weding the man of hono(my dear friend) we call him Jabao. and in the neighborhood where I grew up names like: Angelito el Prieto; El Colorao; El chino; El Negron, are form of describing certain features.No in any way a call for inferiority or anything like that.We call spade as spade and ace as ace.and more important we are no afraid of the word Negro.
    I think that every country,every region within a country,,every social group is just different,but term as Latinos,Hispanos,Afro something,those are masquerade.



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