No matter where you go in this world, as a Black person, someone is always going to remind you that you are Black and Black only. It doesn’t matter if you are an English-speaking Black or Spanish-speaking Black or Swahili-speaking Black (or any other language-speaking Black), folks are going to say, “Nope. That’s a Negro. And they can’t sit with us…”
You may laugh, but sadly, it is true.
For instance, Lupita Nyong’o, along with Star Wars: The Force Awakens co-star Oscar Isaac, recently did an interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos. Of course, the interview was a light piece about how the two stars of “Latin origin” landed their roles in the new Stars Wars flick. (This according to the Facebook translation app. And as a note, all translations in this piece are based off on the app.) And of course, the entire interview is done in Spanish, which both Nyong’o and Issac are fluent in.
It should have been a cute little fluff piece where we, at most, lightly mock the irony of social constructs and national boundaries drawn by imperialism and colonization.
But instead, folks in the comment section got into one serious debate over the question of identity and authenticity. Specifically, who is Latin American?
The right answer is anyone born in Latin America. As Latin America, which includes over 20 sovereign states and territories from Mexico to South America and through the Caribbean, is made up of various ethnic groups and races including European, African, indigenous native and Asian.
But you know folks aren’t about being right.
And of course, we know that this wasn’t about the olive-colored, wavy-haired Issac either. Because a person with lighter skin can be born anywhere in this universe and folks will have little question about the authenticity of their identities. Just look at “Brazilian” supermodel (and former fiancée of Rohan Marley) Isabeli Fontana, whose roots are straight-up Italian. Or comedian Louis C.K. whose father, a native of Mexico, is of Jewish heritage. Or even Isaac himself, whose father is actually Cuban and his maternal grandmother French.
Instead, folks took issue with Nyong’o who was born in Mexico City, Mexico to two Kenyan parents.
One such commenter put it like this, “Lupita N’yongo no es Latina! Es una actriz increíble, una mujer hermosa, pero de Latina no tiene nada. Nació en México mientras su padre estaba allí de negocio y solo vivió allí unos meses. Sus papás son de Kenya.”
Facebook app translation: “Lupita N ‘ YONGO IS NOT Latina! It’s an incredible actress, a beautiful woman, but of Latina has nothing. She was born in Mexico while her father was there for business and only lived there a few months. Her parents are from Kenya.”
And another commenter said, “Lupita es Mexicana por accidente no por que tenga Origen Latino como Lo dice el señor Jorge Ramos. Ella es Africana. Oscar si es de Origen Latino.”
Facebook app translation: “Lupita is mexicana by accident not because I have latin origin as it says Mr Jorge Ramos. She is African. Oscar if it is of Latin origin.”
Again, if there is some poor translation, blame the Facebook app and my four years of being a mediocre student in both high school and college-level Spanish. However, you can read the entire thread for yourself here.
For those who are not aware, Nyong’o, who lived in Kenya for most of her childhood but went back to Mexico when she was 16, identified herself as a “Mexican-Kenyan.” More specifically, she told El Mañana (as translated and reported by The Wire):
“I’m Mexican and Kenyan at the same time,” she said, according to El Mañana. “I’ve seen the quarrels over my nationality, but I’m Kenyan and Mexican at the same time. So again, I am Mexican-Kenyan and I am fascinated by carne asada tacos.”
It should be noted that most of the up-voted comments proudly claim Nyong’o as one of their own. In particular, this comment that said the following:
Si Lupita fuera Rubia y de ojos azules ahi estubieran reclamandola como Mexicana! Como es posible que sea el 2015 y tengamos la mente tan cerrada? Y la verdad no me sorprende en lo absoluto, nuestro hermoso continente Americano es un gran arco iris de colores pero lamentablemente lo unico que casi se ve en la tele es blanco, claro! Eso tambien se debe a que nuestras razas de color casi estan marginalizadas y no tienen las mismas oportunidades.
Facebook app translation:
If Lupita She was blonde and blue eyes there were reclamandola like Mexican! How is it possible that it is 2015 and we have the mind so closed? And the truth I am not surprised at all, our beautiful American continent is a big rainbow of colors but unfortunately the only thing that you can almost see on tv is white, of course! That also is due to the fact that our races of color almost are marginalized and do not have the same opportunities.
Well said in any translation.
And while we are honoring progress, we should also note that just last week, Mexico released its new Census form, which will now officially recognize the 1.38 million “Afro-” Mexicans living in the country. According to Quartz, Afro-Mexican activists wanted the inclusion as a way to help fight back against discrimination and erasure, which has painted the look of Latin culture in only one way.
Still, in a region (who am I kidding, in a world), which is largely grappling with its Afro-Latin identity and is plagued with issues of both racism and colorism, it’s clear in the way that some folks insist we need “proof” of Nyong’o’s identity that we have a long ways to go.