Afro-Latinos: An Annotated Guide for Collection Building

By Higgins, Shana M. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Afro-Latinos: An Annotated Guide for Collection Building


Higgins, Shana M., Reference & User Services Quarterly


Collections that explore the wealth of a culture are vital to the essence of every library, as they provide opportunities to build connections between students, faculty, librarians, and the community As witness to the possibilities stands the amazing Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. New York Public Library provides a service to the world with this rich collection and beautifully arranged, accessible Web site.

Yet as with the Jazz collections the Schomburg Center includes, the interwoven strands of cultural studies are long, tangled, and complexly interrelated. Shana Higgins's gathering of resources will help librarians build a collection that provides students, researchers, and lifelong learners a way to contextualize and study the unique cross-cultural aspects of African American and Latino culture.

Higgins is uniquely suited to author this guide. As an instructional services librarian at the University of Redlands Armacost Library, she is responsible for collection development in Latin American studies and race and ethnic studies. In addition to holding an MLS from Indiana University, Bloomington, she also holds a masters degree from their Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.--Editor

Arthur, or Arturo, Schomburg is best known as the bibliophile whose collection of books, prints, and manuscripts on African American art and culture served as the foundation for what is now the New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Less known is that Arturo Schomburg was Puerto Rican. The fact that we rarely encounter Schomburg represented as both African American and Latino (Afro-Latino) is emblematic of the experience of most Afro-Latinos in the United States and underscores this bibliography's purpose. These resources are intended to illuminate some recent voices seeking to make visible the lived experience of Afro-Latinos across the Americas.

Piri Thomas's enduring classic memoir of growing up in Spanish Harlem, Down These Mean Streets (New York: Knopf, 1967), provided one of the first descriptions of the experience of being identified as both African American and Latino in United States popular culture. One might consider Bodega Dreams (New York: Vintage Contemporary, 2000) by Ernesto Quinonez to be an update on Thomas's classic, insofar as it tells a more current tale of growing up Puerto Rican in East Harlem. Each novel subtly deals with the experience of being both African American and Puerto Rican. It is a part of the mise-en-scene, noticeable if one is attuned. Likewise, the Dominican-born Julia Alvarez characterizes Afro-Latina experience in her book In the Name of Salome (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000). Of late, Afro-Dominicans have also found some visibility in United States popular culture. On television, characters such as Judy Reyes as nurse Carla Espinosa on Scrubs and BETs first Latina host, Julissa Bermudez, both of Dominican descent, claim their blackness and latinidad. Still, the Afro-Latino experience across the Americas remains margmalized.

The term Afro-Latino is itself fraught with ambiguity. According to Africana, the multivolume encyclopedia edited by Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the term refers to "the cultural experience of Spanish-speaking black people in what has become the territory of the United States." (1) For Latin American and Latino studies scholars, such as Anani Dzidzienyo and Suzanne Oboler, the term includes those identified as or who self-identify as black in Latin America and the Hispanophone Caribbean. (2) A more popular United States understanding of the term describes the connection between Latino and African American communities in the United States, particularly in relation to Cuban Americans and Puerto Ricans on the East Coast, whose cross-cultural contact and productions have been more widely disseminated. (3) Despite ambiguities, in the last few years, the Afro-Latino experience has become an increasingly rich area of study within academia. …

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