LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — As we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to highlight a group within the Hispanic community. Afro-Latinos are often overlooked when referring to Hispanics.
13 Action News anchor Rachel Moore shows us how the Afro-Latin culture is shaped by their Hispanic heritage.
"I joined in on a Latin jazz dance class, which is a genre of jazz with Latin American rhythms. That's essentially what the Afro-Latino culture is: this community shares in the Hispanic heritage but their life experiences, because of their race and skin tone which is more reflective of their African ancestors, shape their rich culture," says Rachel.
The steps in this Latin jazz dance number, are as complicated as the history from which it's derived.
Stephanie Case co-owns Moderno Dance Center. Her family is from Panama and she identifies as Afro-Latino, which was a background she felt she always had to explain growing up.
"Oh you speak Spanish? Well that's weird. Where are you from.' So it was like my norm, because you don't see that many Afro-Latinos like on TV or in movies or represented in a lot of places," says Case.
Afro-Latinos make up 12 percent of the adult Latino population in the U.S, and about half were born in the U.S. or Puerto Rico. The other half born in foreign countries like Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador.
"Afro-Latin culture is often forgotten, but we're here," says Case.
It's a shared sentiment within the Afro-Latino community.
During the colonial period of Latin America, about 15 times as many African slaves were taken to Spanish and Portuguese colonies than to the United States.
According to Princeton University's Project on Ethnicity and Race in Latin America, nearly a quarter of the Hispanic population in the region are of African descent. But the misconception of what a "proper" Latino physically looks like is the root of the controversy.
Here in the U.S., about one-sixth of the Afro-Latino population does not identify as Hispanic. Skin color is a major factor.
"I grew up in mostly an African-American neighborhood, so of course, everywhere I go, I get asked, what am I mixed with, " says Andre Thomas, a ride-share driver who moved to Las Vegas from Chicago.
He identifies as Afro-Latino, and says that every year his father takes him to Puerto Rico to visit family.
"When I was younger it was all about teaching us how to cook Spanish rice and whatnot. Now they're trying to teach me Spanish and just really learning where we came from," says Thomas.
Remembering their ancestral origins while embracing their Afro-Latin ethnicity.
"If you go to any state, any country in the world and you go into a salsa environment, you're going to see everything. You're going to see people from all walks of life, and that's really the beauty and the blessing of this culture," says Case.
In October, the Caribbean Festival comes through Las Vegas showing the proud heritage of Afro-Latinos through music, dance, fashion and food here in Nevada."