Intersecting the archival with the digital, The LatiNegr@s Project curates, documents, and broadcasts Black Latino space both in the United States and Latin America as a whole. Their project ranges from pop culture to academia and provides an easily accessible archive that informs and prompts activism in and outside the classroom. While pundits play out the latest journalistic tic (“Are the Humanities Dying?!”), LNP reexamines historical questions with fresh perspective and innovative use of contemporary technology.
Following in their collectivist spirit, we were so excited to talk with two of their current members. Bianca Laureano is a first generation Puerto Rican sexologist, activist, and educator currently based in New York City. She was joined by Jessica Marie Johnson, Assistant Professor of History at Michigan State University, she holds a PhD and MA in history from the University of Maryland and a BA from the Washington University in St. Louis.
And now without further ago, the Feministing Five with The LatiNegr@s Project.
Suzanna Bobadilla: What was the motivation to launch the LatiNegr@s project?
Bianca Laureano: This blog post discusses why we started The LatiNegr@s Project (LNP). The main goal was to increase representation of AfrxLatinxs (We use @ and x for gender inclusion and neutrality). There are the usual folks who are highlighted and featured, as they must be, but there are so many more of us why just focus on the usual select 3? Our goal was to push folks to recognize how vast we are as a community in the U.S. and around the world.
I’m excited that LNP has grown as much as it has. We began in January of 2010 when Tumblr was a new online platform. I was new to the space, but wanted to get something up and running that was inclusive and accessible to the community and built with the communities input. We had our official start for February which is when the U.S. acknowledges Black History Month. We wanted to make sure LatiNegrxs were included in these celebrations and observances.
When we first began we asked self-identified LatiNegrx/AfrxLatinx online writers and bloggers to post something on their sites and we would share on the tumblr page. On LatinoSexuality.blogspot.com I focused on celebrating and highlighting LatiNegras especially, with an emphasis on those of us who are not entertainers or athletes (although there were some) but politicians, activists, theorists, poets, etc. to demonstrate how powerful we are worldwide!
Jessica M. Johnson: In 2010 when I heard about the project and was asked to join, I immediately felt like, YES! This is what we need right now. The Black History Month initiative was fantastic; the chance to extend that work year-round in community with other AfrxLatinxs on the web (and with Bianca and Vio) made LNP kind of perfect. I love them. LNP is an opportunity to do work I care about and do it with and out of that love.
SB: Why is archival history still relevant in the digital age?
BL: This is the perfect question for Jessica to answer, as an AfraLatina historian, this is her life’s work! I would share that there is something affirming and transformative when we are introduced to a legacy of which we are a part that we have just realized. I believe the clarity, or “ah-ha” moment, for many of us of the Diaspora, is an imperative part of our growth into ourselves. Finding out about ourselves, families, histories, and journeys is a revolutionary act of love.
JMJ: This answer has many elements. In the first place, so much of the history of our people–people of African descent across the Americas but also around the world–is deep, deep, deep in archives, libraries and museums. So much is uncatalogued and awaits discovery. And so much has been lost to natural disaster, to climate, to human caprice. Those libraries in Detroit or research centers recovering in New Orleans post-Katrina or in Haiti post-earthquake tell the story. These losses are violent and do a violence to our ability to tell the story of our survival, creativity and brilliance. So it is crucial we continue to recover and engage what we can while we can.
Second, doing archival history is still an important skillset that also involves taking what is already discovered and placing it in context with diasporic Black history. Arturo Schomburg was a bibliophile and research junkie but he was also of Afro-Puerto Rican descent by way of the English-speaking Caribbean. What does that mean for Black history and Afrxlatinidad in the U.S.? Or what of diaries of plantation owners or letters sent by Cuban governors to Spain–about Florida? These documents weren’t written by slaves or with slaves or free people of African descent in mind, but they still tell a story about AfrxLatinxs that needs to be told. And, like Schomburg’s biography, all of these documents require context or we miss our history completely. Doing archival history reminds us that what appears straightforward isn’t always so–something that AfrxLatinxs in the U.S. can tell you from personal, corporeal experience.
And third point, and this is very important, the digital age doesn’t provide equal access to all histories. Archives, libraries, and museums are still in the process of putting even finding aids online much less digitizing material. And there is much material to go through, some of it quite old, making the digitizing process a difficult or impossible one. There are issues of funding, of course, and broadband access in archives of the Global South; these are also issues of language and accessibility. In other words, it would be dangerous for us to assume that a Google search will bring us the material we need to understand where we have come from, how Afrxlatinidad works, how racism and colorism has impacted us in particular, and the way our histories intersect with histories of race in the United States (and beyond). In many ways, we are still at the beginning, still trying to build the support networks and the methodologies, and encourage existing institutions to support us in the work we need to do. And build new institutions, as well! And archival history isn’t the only way–so much of what we carry of our past is told in bodies, through stories, through systems of belief, through memory. This is important too. for me, my contribution is in the archival work. For me, this is part of how we thrive, how we mark our abuelas in time and space. We cannot continue to allow outsiders to be the only ones telling our stories–even when it is a story of how we survived. We must return to the source constantly–and innovate with digital media and tech tools!–to tell the story ourselves. We must be hybrids–bringing archive and digital and body/memory/oral together. As AfrxLatinxs, we are often hybrids, bisected by history and institutional racism even from our citizenship to some places, so this is a dance we know well.
SB: How can educators incorporate your work into their curricula?
BL: As an educator for almost 20 years, I had educators in mind when beginning LNP. There is such a dearth of information for educators to use to discuss and represent AfrxLatinxs, and allowing folks to submit what they want to represent us makes this project unique. We are merging with youth and youth culture and having readers and followers guide the project as far as content to an extent. There are so many ideas that come to mind, our archives alone are extensive. Educators can easily have their students go to our site, search the archives, do a scavenger hunt, continue further research on a person or experience, and build lesson plans. We have even shared some lesson plans and syllabi (some of my own) on the site as well.
JMJ: LNP is protected by a Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivs 3.0 Unported license. So one thing all educators should do (and that’s academia, high school, preschool, freedom and community schools, literacy programs, prisons and detention centers, whoever and wherever) is reach out. We’d love to hear about how the project is being used and we’d love an opportunity to talk back. And this is a general rule when working with online material. There is a false disconnect between educators and those creating digital material. The reality more and more is that it is disconcerting, at the very least, to see or hear about LNP being used in classrooms or as part of scholarly research. The worse is when we find out days, weeks, years later. For LNP, in particular, not reaching out can be very problematic because so much of the material on the site is reblogged and therefore not LNP property. Proper attribution is key and is best sorted out by reaching out. That said, for material that is generated specifically by LNP members, believe me, we’d rather hear from you that you are using the project–in X, Y, Z ways– than come across it online or in a conference with no preparation. Nine times out of ten, we just want to engage with you! So ask for permission as a courtesy and let’s chat!
SB: What recent news story made you want to scream?
BL: What’s going down in the Dominican Republic, the Little Miss Hispanic Delaware story, and any story where folks are policing the Blackness of AfrxLatinxs.
JMJ: The situation in the Dominican Republic, the court decision stripping people of Haitian descent of their citizenship, is one of the most detestable civil and human rights violations of our time. AfrxLatinxs in the U.S. need to be following the situation closely. I’m looking forward to reporting from Aisha Brown of Hue Global as things continue to develop.
SB: And finally, you’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?
BL: One food: red delicious apples.
One drink: Paul Newman’s Limeade.
The feminist I’d take with me would probably identify as a mujerista or a radical woman of Color as well: AfraLatina psychologist Lillian Comas-Diaz. I think I’d be able to do a lot of healing work with her, tap into my own healing work that I know I have but have yet to really build upon, and we’d come up with a plan on recognizing why the universe had us on that island and where we wanted to go next.
JMJ: One food-Lord help me, I’d take a Chicago style pizza with me as my food. I know it hasn’t a nutrient that would save my life on a desert island but how can I not?!? And not just any–Gino’s East. And no, not a slice. I would take a whole pie–12 inch preferred. Go hard or go home.
To drink, I’d take water. I am a Wata Data. I need it.
The feminist I’d take with me? So…I have a secret (or not so secret) obsession with N.K. Jemisin. She’s a fantasy/speculative fiction writer who publishes fiction that crosses sexuality, race, ethnicity, everything. She is amazing. I’m not sure she self-identifies as a feminist and it doesn’t matter to me because from what I’ve read (her novels and her blogs), her politics are social justice-centered and righteous. The work is what is important not the label and I’m here for her brain and her brilliance. And I stan for her. I would sort of love to be on a desert island with her, where she would be stuck with me and I could ask her anything I wanted. Hmm, I guess she could ignore me but…did I mention she’s amazing?
Suzanna Bobadilla is a shameless lover of history, archives, and archivists. She has been known to dork out about 19th century postcards and 20th century tourist scrapbooks. Once day, she hopes to be a cool kid; until then, she’ll be with her book.