If you identify as Afro-Latinx, the Fourth of July can bring up some complicated feelings, to say the least. Although the day commemorates the Founding Fathers officially declaring independence from Great Britain’s tyrannical monarch, it also is a day to celebrate American patriotism, which in some spheres has developed into a sort of blind nationalism.
It can be difficult to feel in the mood to wrap yourself in the American flag and sing the “Star Spangled Banner” when we’re constantly subjected to headlines exposing the horrors of the migrant crisis at the border, mass incarceration of black and brown people, and not to mention, the history of the US being founded through the oppression and enslavement of black and brown people.
Chris Rock put it perfectly a few years ago when he took to Twitter to speak his thoughts about the Fourth of July: “Happy white people’s Independence Day. The slaves weren’t free, but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks”. That’s the feeling that many Black Americans feel regarding the day that we’re supposed to celebrate as the birth of one of the greatest, richest, most powerful countries in the world.
For many Black Americans, the Fourth of July is simply a painful reminder of all of the injustices, past, and present, that America has inflicted on their people.
From slavery to Jim Crow laws, to lynchings, to police brutality, to mass incarceration, there seems to be so much violence inflicted on the Black community at large by the hands of American institutions of authority.
Not only does the celebration of the “independence” of America from its colonial oppressors conveniently ignore the years of slavery America subjected Black people too, but it also ignores the genocide of the indigenous populations that lived in the U.S. before European colonization. Are we to forget that the whole continent of North America was completely “independent” before white colonizers ever stepped foot onto its soil?
As Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez from Latino Rebels wrote scathingly in her piece, “The Fourth of July: A Celebration of Hatred” and you will find a lot of white smiling faces, celebrating as if America was ever theirs to begin with.” So yeah: Independence Day is a complicated holiday for people of color for more than one reason.
Before the Civil War, Independence Day was historically a holiday almost exclusively celebrated by whites.
And why shouldn’t it have been? Even for free blacks, it would’ve been hard to express devotion to a country that currently enslaved thousands of people of your same race solely based on the color of their skin. As Frederick Douglass put it eloquently in a speech addressed to a crowd of white people during a Fourth of July gathering: “I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…”
According to historians, if a black American did celebrate Independence Day before the Civil War, they would often do it on July 5th to acknowledge the different relationship they, as black people, had with the so-called “land of the free” that was both their oppressor and their home country.
But, interestingly enough, there was a major shift in feelings towards the 4th of July in the black community after the Civil War ended.
So, although the Fourth of July does not rank among the likes of Martin Luther King day for its importance in Black History, it nonetheless has a surprising history of celebration with America’s black community.
While most white Southerners felt little to no loyalty towards the United States of America after the Civil War and would “shut themselves within doors”, as one woman put it, in order to blot out the shame of their failed rebellion, black Southerners began to look to the holiday as a way to celebrate their new-found freedom. Basking in their new freedom, black Americans looked to the holiday as a way to celebrate their own independence as well as the independence of the country they lived in.
According to Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts at The Atlantic, after the Civil War ended, free blacks “gathered together to watch fireworks and listen to orators recite the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery when it was ratified in late 1865”. Black Americans organized parades in honor of Independence Day, congregating to watch companies of black militia march down the streets.
Black southerners also created a ritual song and dance called “Too-la-loo” in which a group of men and women would form a ring, a woman would move to the center, and eventually, she would choose a suitor to join her. The game was so popular that “Too-la-loo” eventually “became shorthand for the Fourth of July” in South Carolina.
But like many burgeoning black traditions in the Antebellum South, the establishment of the Fourth of July as a black holiday was short-lived. Once Jim Crow laws took hold of the local government, the white population made it all but impossible for black people to continue their Independence Day festivities. Authorities pushed their “Too-la-loo” festivities to the outskirts of the city, and eventually, out of the city altogether. They forbid vendors from setting up shop on the streets where the festivities had been taking place. After a few years, black people no longer looked to the Fourth of July as a means to celebrate their freedom, and it became a “white holiday” once again.
These days, the Afro-Latinx population in America still wrestle with complicated feelings towards the Fourth of July.
On one hand, it can be viewed as a carefree celebration–a time to enjoy barbecues, beer, and fireworks with your friends and family and, of course, to get a day off of work. But, when some Latinx people look deeper into the holiday, it’s hard not to experience feelings of emptiness or frustration. And these feelings can be exasperated when you’re Afro-Latinx, as you have both the specter of black slavery and indigenous genocide to contend with on a day that is meant to celebrate American exceptionalism. As Patricia Montes, a Honduran immigrant living in Boston, said about the Fourth of July in an interview, “I feel very conflicted. What are we celebrating? Are we celebrating democracy?”
Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan is the outgoing president of the National Lawyers Guild and her departure has taken a sudden turn. After years as an attorney, many are now accusing the attorney of posing as a Latina.
Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan is facing mounting scrutiny and backlash for her claims that she is Latina.
According to a post on Prism, Bannan has a history of claiming her Latinidad. The post points out several interviews the attorney has given over the years with different publications where she explicitly claims that she is part of the Latino community. In one YouTube video with ¡Voice Latina!, Bannan explicitly says that “as a woman, as an individual, as a Latina” she is inspired to do the work she does because of her hero Oscar López Rivera.
People are calling on others to do better about who they choose to represent various communities.
Representation matters, especially when it comes to the issues that are facing our various communities. It is important to make sure that the representation reflects those being represented. According to Prism, Bannan has been pushing a narrative that she is of Puerto Rican and Colombian heritage for over a decade. She has even spoken out as a Puerto Rican woman that is fighting for the island’s statehood.
There are multiple media moments when Bannan claimed Latino heritage, according to reports.
Prism points to an interview conducted in 2007 where she allegedly told “El Diario” that her heritage was “a little bit Spanish, a little bit Colombian, and a Sephardic Jew.”
“I am racially white, and have always said that. However my cultural identity was formed as a result of my family, both chosen and chosen for me, and that has always been Latinx,” Bannan wrote on Facebook Monday following the story. “My identity is my most authentic expression of who I am and how I pay honor to the people who have formed me since I was a child.”
The story is garnering so much attention because of Hilaria Baldwin and her claims of being Spanish.
Baldwin misled people into believing that she was of Spanish descent when she was a white woman born in Boston. Prism was able to decipher that Bannan is a white woman born in Georgia whose family immigrated from Ireland, Italy, and Russia.
In 2017, a Pew Research Center study revealed that while there has neen an increase in the numberof Latino Spanish speakers at home, the overall number of Latinos who speak Spanish has declined significantly in the past decade. Ultimately, the finding revealed that while the Latino population continues to grow significantly a smaller percentage of Latinos actually speak Spanish.
For many of us, particularly those of us Latinos who don’t speak Spanish, these findings cause us to carry quite a bit of guilt. After all growing up, many of us were told that understanding the language of our abuelos and padres was vital.
For Latinos that have heard the words “¿No habla español?” and felt terrible, the blow Reddit conversation is for you.
“First of all: You’re not any less Latina for not knowing Spanish. There are plenty of Asian-Americans who don’t know their parents language, European-Americans and so on. It’s your culture and your identity and no one can tell you what you are and what you aren’t based on not knowing a certain language.
Secondly, as others have said, you’re in an excellent spot if you want to learn Spanish since you have so many native speakers at your disposal. I’d say use the resources from this sub to self teach yourself, and when you get to a certain level, tell your friends and family what you want to achieve and see how they respond. I’m sure most of them would love to practice with you and help you learn, and worst case scenario if they don’t want to, you can keep self teaching and just respond to them in Spanish at times anyway. I’ve lived abroad for a bit and will-power is a main component of language learning: when people try to speak English to me I don’t fall to the pressure and reply the best I can in Spanish. Not exactly a direct equivalent, but my advice. Buena suerte con su aprendizaje.” – Maxmutinium
“I have a buddy who is half Mexican. He even got a scholarship for it. He can’t even speak to his own grandmother because he doesn’t speak Spanish and she doesn’t speak English.” –MyParentsAre_Cousins
“Does anyone else who is Latinx and does not know Spanish feel this way?
Yeah. Oh yeah. Bilingual parents but it was always English in the home and even with high school and college classes I never quote got it. I’ve been told to my face that I’m not a real Puerto Rican because of it. I am very much one, but I feel very distanced from my own people because of it, from the language barrier, to the exclusion, to the culture difference with not being around Spanish speakers, to being bitter about the whole thing.
Are you trying to learn? If so, what’s working best for you to learn it?
Yes, but I don’t tell people because they’ll start saying stuff I don’t understand or make a fuss over it. I prefer learning on my own terms. Duolingo has been my choice and it’s helped a lot. I feel like I’m starting to be able to think in Spanish which from what I know is a big step towards fluency.” –jclocks
“I’m in the same boat in a lot of ways. My parents didn’t speak much Spanish to me as a child and I only learned a sprinkling of words. In high school I hated spanish class because it made me feel inadequate. At family events I felt like an outsider when people switched to Spanish. I also was really frustrated when people asked me why I didn’t speak it since the assumption was that I had somehow chosen not to learn.
Two years ago I decided to commit to learning it. I went to Ecuador and spent 6 weeks taking one-on-one classes and living with a host family. Afterwards I could have broken conversations, but more importantly I was able to get past my fear of speaking in front of other Latinos. I don’t have the opportunity to do another immersion trip again in the near future, so this year I decided to really invest serious time into learning on my own. I do 5 hours of conversation a week with iTalki; I listen to Glossika on my commute to and from work; I do Anki flashcards every morning and I read Spanish articles using LingQ. I shoot for 2 hours minimum of active practice a day and I supplement that with listening to music in Spanish and Spanish podcasts. Even when I watch stuff in English on Netflix I put on Spanish subtitles to gain a little more exposure.
It’s working. I don’t consider myself fluent yet, but that’s only because my goals have become more ambitious (I want to have native-like proficiency). I’ve put about 500-600 hours worth of study in since I started and I can have conversations and listen to Ted Talks in Spanish. It feels great and I’ve learned a lot about my culture and other Latin cultures as a result.
If you’re willing to put the time in (many experts think it takes more than a 1,000 hours to hit a very high level of proficiency) you can do it too. But you really have to create clear goals and habits built around your learning. Last year I was stagnant and it’s because I didn’t have goals and habits to really develop my fluency. And while an immersion trip with classes can really jumpstart the learning process you don’t need it to become fluent so long as you plug in hour after hour into active exposure and study. Also, if you had exposure to spanish as a baby, you probably have an advantage. There’s studies linking exposure to a language in the early months to a lifelong capacity to make out the sounds of that language better than people who weren’t exposed to it as children. That really helps when it comes to listening and to developing an accent. A lot of my tutors tell me I don’t have the gringo accent, which is also really encouraging.” –eatmoreicecream
“I feel like shit that I grew up with Puerto Rican family, and Spanish speaking ALL around me and still don’t speak it at 28. I also had bilingual childhood friends. The environment was PERFECT for me to grow up fluent in two languages.
Yet here I am close to 30 and I can’t speak shit. I keep telling myself I want to learn but now I feel bummed out that I’m aging past being able to sound “native” anymore.
Double this is my father was disappointed I didn’t know not too long before he died and I feel like all the people who assume I’m fluent in Spanish when they approach is him nudging me on and still nagging for me to learn lol. There’s a definite guilt and “I’m ignoring an entire part of my awesome upbringing” thing going on.
Edit: Missed too many words in the first one that made it sound like I felt like shit about growing up in the environment instead of about not learning Spanish lol. Edit edit: One of my worst regrets is from elementary school, where a teacher asked us what a really simple word in Spanish meant. I knew it of course, but I stayed quiet for whatever dumb reason. Pretty sure that was to test the potential to learn before teaching us the language another missed opportunity to plant the seeds in my young mind. HINDSIGHT IS 20/20 DAMNIT.” –IniMiney
“Forget about sounding native, that’s only something that’s in your mind. You’re never too old to learn a language! I picked up Russian two years ago almost and I’m 35!”- Effervescent_513
“Don’t feel bad, it’s not true that you’ll need sound native. You have to dedicate yourself to training your ear to hearing exactly the sounds, and teaching your speech organ to produce some the new sounds. I really recommend Mimic Method for this. I’ve not even finished the Spanish course and I was confusing Spanish Speakers on holiday because whilst I looked and was foreign what little I knew was pronounced well (sorry, I am widening my doorframes.” –Brutussaid
“I’ve been called white washed and Gabacha (sp?) Because I don’t speak Spanish but have been surrounded by it my whole life. I even married and had a kid with a Latino, and his whole family speaks Spanish too! The only ones in my family that don’t know are me, my brother and sister. It’s so hard. I know a little, but not enough to hold a casual conversation. Everyone is too fast. Plus we’re friends with a lot of Salvadorians and that’s even harder to understand! There’s no way my kid is going to grow up without knowing 2 languages at least. I feel so alienated, some of my in laws’ friends think I’m either quiet or mean because I can’t even understand half of what they’re saying. I have to have someone actively translate for me just to be included in everything.” –MoistCreamPuffs
“I 100% relate to you. I hope to one day marry a Latino that knows Spanish so that way my kid will grow up with learning the language and maybe my future husband can help me too. I too feel alienated when I’m constantly surrounded by Spanish speakers and I barely understand what they’re saying, but with that being said I think both you and I have a great advantage to learn the language because we know so many Spanish speakers. With the help of redditor’s advice, I’m more than confident that it isn’t too late for us to learn! We got this girl!” –lrvxoxo
“Being Latina and not knowing spanish is one of the worst things ever… like I literally feel like a disgrace to my heritage.
Spanish is the language of the conquistadors. It is not the languages of the natives in most of the lands that the language dominates.
Try not to be too hard on yourself.
It will take time, but you can learn. It’s never too late to start! There are many, many free and low cost resources. ¡Buena suerte!” –confusedchild02
“Spanish is the language of the conquistadors. It is not the languages of the natives in most of the lands that the language dominates.
The “conquistadors” are our ancestors too! It depends on the location too but Latin America unlike other parts of the world is a mixture from Spanish and the indigenous population in a bigger or smaller proportion. In other words it’s not like Spanish is a foreign language like French is in Africa and English is in India, it’s part of our culture as well and if you don’t speak it you do miss out a huge part of the culture.” –ffuentes
“Being Latina means she could be either 100% or 0% descended from indigenous people.
Though it’s irrelevant because the vast majority of modern Latin Americans have been speaking Spanish (or Portuguese) for generations, and very few identify with anything other than their nationality.” –Enmerkahr
“My ex was Mexican but didn’t speak Spanish. I studied it in school as a second language. He was no where near as good as me, but he had a really good foundation that I didn’t.
Something I struggle with as a non native speaker is that there are just so many words. If you remain consistent and study vocabulary, you’ll know a lot. But there are just so many things you don’t know because you have no reason to know.
Native speakers don’t really have that disadvantage. They’ve heard just about everything at some point even if they can’t recall it off of the top of their heads.
I’m willing to bet that if you started studying in a classroom setting, you’d be fluent in no time.” –TheMeanGirl
“You situation is favorable over mine as a white guy, I know very few native Spanish speakers, much less that are willing to help me practice on a regular basis. Yo que tu, I would ask my parents to converse with me in Spanish as much as possible and you’ll learn super fast that way.” –TesticlesMcTitties
“I’ve told my parents to help me learn that way in the past & my parents will speak to me in Spanish for like an hour and then stop till the next time I ask, so it’s annoying constantly reminding them to talk to me in Spanish. But I’ll definitely push for it more because I’m sure if they were consistent, I would probably learn super fast as you said.” –lrvxoxo
“Even if you are not fluent, based on your surroundings can you pick up phrases? You might have heard many phrases and understand it but not explain it like a teacher. If this is the case, think of it like filling in the gaps. Never too late to learn.” –MisterE2k14
“I think phrases are the easiest to learn and I think that’s what I know most of, but then again like I said what I do know is very minimal. Thank you for the tip about filling in the gaps, I appreciate it!”- lrvxoxo
“I speak Spanish but not the languages of my grandparents and great-grandparents. I also always thought I was terrible as languages as a kid. Don’t sweat it! There are loads of resources you can download, perhaps more than for many other language. Also you have the advantage that people outside of your family you meet will presume you speak it, so just act like you do – I did. You definitely shouldn’t take this to heart or feel bad about it, but it can definitely act as a motivation. Learn a few stock phrases and just nod, search out group conversations where you don’t need to talk much, watch films and listen to music or podcasts about topics that interest you. Don’t stress about not catching everything; even if you’re a native speaker, you won’t get everything. If there are folks in your city (or extended family, friends) that are native Spanish speakers and struggling, try to spend time teaching them English. Also try to find native English learners of Spanish – you’ll be less nervous speaking to them. Things like Memrise, Lingvist, Clozemaster, Babadum are all great because they’re more active, since sometimes it’s difficult to pick stuff up if you’re only learning stuff passively.” –metalaffect
“In the same exact spot as you. Everyone in my entire extended family knows Spanish except for me and my brothers. It’s easily the thing I hate most about myself. And I feel like I barely have a close connection to most of my family because they have to communicate with me in their non native language and it’s hard to become close that way.
Once I finish my schooling which will actually be in a couple weeks, I plan to go hardcore with my Spanish learning. I have native speakers right at home in my parents so I hope that the process can go relatively smoothly and quickly.” –MrProfessor
“I’m Latino. My aunts, uncles all speak Spanish. My grandparents spoke Spanish. My mom spoke Spanish. But not me. I only knew a little bit from growing up around it but over the past year and a half I finally buckled down and started learning for real. I’m 46. I’m very proud of being Latino. My goal of learning Spanish has more to do with just being more open to non-US culture as well as just wanting to be able to converse in a language my family knows so well.
Oh, and of course I was called a ‘coconut’ by other Latino kids growing up – brown on the outside, white on the inside. But, hey, being Latino makes you thick skinned anyway, so I’m not worried about that. I’m not going to stop with Spanish.
I now fall into the category of ‘I can read it really well, but only pick up about 50% of what is spoken’. I don’t think I’m any less Latino because I never learned Spanish before, I do wish I’d learned before my grandmother passed. She did not speak much English and was fiercely proud of being Latina.
What worked for me was basically immersion, Duolingo, YouTube and Pimsluer, and not thinking I could learn in a month. You didn’t learn English in a month, and additionally, you learned by hearing first, which is kind of the opposite of how people try to learn a second language. You will almost immediately remember words or phrases that Spanish speaking people tell you/correct you on, but it’s a lot harder to just learn words and phrases on your own.
For me, I also discovered that working daily, often really devoting time to it, is best reinforced by not working as hard for a bit. It seems like my brain catches up – suddenly I’ll go back and watch a show on Univision or read a Spanish article and it’s like I can magically read far more than I could before.
Next step for me is a tutor. I’m at the point where I can speak broken Spanish, probably better than my grandmother spoke English. But I, like most people, want fluency.” –silverbax