Afro-Latinos Draw Hope, Pride From Obama

Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel, March 25, 2009

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Obama’s evolving focus on Latin America has special meaning to Latinos in Central Florida–especially Afro-Latinos, who see the American president as the person who can bring the taboo subjects of race and racism out into the open.

In Latin America, Obama is an inspiration for black Hispanics who have been marginalized.

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In Brazil, some black candidates for public office went so far as to change their names to Obama, said Bolivia-born Annabelle Conroy, assistant professor of political science at UCF.

Race has always been viewed differently in Latin America than in the U.S., according to experts. While both share histories of the slave trade, Latin nations didn’t have the strict segregation of the U.S.

Some Latin Americans proclaim their countries free of the racism that plagues the U.S. because their populations are composed of mixed races, said Ariel Dulitzky, a professor of law and Latin American studies at the University of Texas.

Some authorities contend the denial of racism among Latin Americans is the negation of their African ancestry.

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Despite denials of racial bias, throughout Latin America there is a stigma attached to being black.

“In Latin America, the whiter you are, the better you are. You don’t really want to be black because nothing good is attached to that,” said Eva Garrick, 35, a black Hispanic from Panama.

She said Obama gives blacks in Latin America reason to acknowledge their own African heritage.

Obama’s presidency has Latin Americans rethinking their prejudices and racial biases, even as they regard themselves as less obsessed with race than Americans, experts say.

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