Africa’s Legacy in Latin America

The term legacy can be defined in various ways according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The definition that will allow a better understanding of the topic of this paper, defines legacy as anything that is handed down by an ancestor (OED Online-legacy). The goal of this paper is to discuss the legacy of Africa in Latin America by investigating the elements that Africa has handed down to influence the development of Latin America’s identity. Africa has contributed greatly to the development of Latin America’s identity. This is evident because there are traces of African elements found within Latin America’s politics, history, and culture.

Africa’s legacy in Latin America can be demonstrated through Latin American politics. A major event that Latin American politics have been involved with is slavery. Slavery in Latin America has greatly influenced Latin American culture because it brought forth an African presence in Latin America (Phillips, 2007). Slavery initiated unawareness of Africa’s presence within Latin America which led to the unawareness of Africa’s legacy in Latin America. This is evident because Latin American countries that were involved in slavery have tried to repress their memories because they feel ashamed for once participating in slavery (Phillips, 2007). By repressing their memories of the past, Latin America has forgotten all aspects of Africa’s legacy which results in people identifying Latin America without considering its African aspect. Latin America’s involvement in slavery has also led to current issues of neglect in terms of Africa’s contribution to Latin America. For example, Afro-Latin American culture is often abandoned in the standard Spanish curriculum (Kennedy, 1987). Aspects of African heritage in Latin America that are ignored in the Spanish curriculum can be incorporated into the curriculum by establishing the positive contributions that have occurred from Latin America’s involvement of the slave trade. Conversely, to understand the positive contributions that Africa has achieved, one must consider the historical past of Latin America.

To understand the African legacy in Latin America, recognition between Africa and Latin America’s relationship needs to be present.  Examining Latin America’s past contributes to understanding how Africa has influenced Latin America’s identity because of the role that Africa has played in Latin American history. For example, various countries in Latin America have participated in the Afro-Atlantic slave trade which has caused the presence of those who are Afro-Hispanic to become invisible (Andrews, 2004). This has shaped Latin America’s identity because people tend to neglect the idea of Afro-Hispanics living within Latin America, which has caused people to associate those who are only of Hispanic descent with Latin America. The invisibility of Afro-Hispanics in Latin America has caused people to deny the idea of there ever being an African presence in Latin American countries such as Mexico. The invisibility of Afro-Hispanics in Latin America has developed due to shame that countries have for participating in the Afro-Atlantic slave trade (Phillips, 2007). People also tend to neglect the idea of the mestizo when considering Latin America. The mestizo describes people in Latin America that are of mixed races (Rosa, 1996). When people consider the mestizo, they tend to consider the European aspect of it and neglect the African aspect of it (Rosa, 1996). This idea of invisibility of Afro-Hispanics as well as neglecting the African aspect of the mestizo presents a suggestion that Africa’s role in Latin American history has shaped Latin America’s identity by causing countries to forget their shameful past. However, although the idea of an African presence within Latin America is often rejected, there is evidence that Latin American culture has adapted African elements.

Africa has played a key role in developing various aspects of Latin America’s culture. Latin American art demonstrates this concept because many works incorporate African heritage which reveals the contribution of African elements to Latin American culture (Sullivan, 2000). Art in Latin America can significantly demonstrate Africa’s legacy because it demonstrates how Latin America’s culture has developed and been influenced by Africa. For example, one artist explored Afro-Cuban religion and other cults of African origin within their works which is relevant in demonstrating Africa’s legacy in Latin America because it expresses how religions in Latin America have originated from Africa (Sullivan, 2000). Another example that can demonstrate this concept is Wilfredo Lam’s “La Jungla (The Jungle)”, 1943. This a good example of Latin American art displaying Africa’s influence on Latin American culture because the artist explores the African aspect of Latin America by incorporating elements and characteristics that are found in Africa (Sullivan, 2000). For instance, in the image there are figures that appear to possess similar features that are commonly found in Africans such as full lips. The figures in the image resemble tribal masks that could only be found in Africa. Africa’s role in developing Latin America’s culture can also be displayed through music. The xylophone is a common instrument that is used in Latin American culture and is of African origin (Garfias, 1983). This shows that Africa has greatly influenced Latin American culture through music because of the xylophones importance in Latin American culture. Salsa music is a further example of music that people often identify Latin America with and has shown signs of evidence that it originated from Africa (Rinn, 1995). Africa’s legacy can furthermore be viewed in developing Latin America’s culture by examining Latin American language. Evidence shows that words which have been used in Latin America have originated from African languages (Megenney, 1983).  This demonstrates an important aspect of Latin American culture being influenced by Africa.

Africa has demonstrated various contributions to developing Latin America’s identity. People identify Latin America with various elements such as politics, music, language, art, and Latin America’s past. Africa has clearly contributed to these elements in various ways but is receives no recognition for its assistance in developing what is known as Latin America. Although Africa’s contributions have had some negative outcomes, such as the fading of Afro-Latin presence, Africa’s contributions have also had some very positive outcomes. A positive outcome is that the African legacy is not ignored in Latin American art because artists tend to explore the topic and explore their roots.

Natasha Reddy

Fall 2011


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Kennedy, James H. “Strategies for Including Afro-Latin American Culture in the Intermediate Spanish Class.” Hispania 70.3 (1987): 679,679-683. Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA). Web. 23 Nov. 2011.

Megenney, William W. “Common Words of African Origin used in Latin America.” Hispania 66.1 (1983): 1,1-10. Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA). Web. 23 Nov. 2011.

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Phillips, W. E. “Representations of the Black Body in Mexican Visual Art: Evidence of an African Historical Presence or a Cultural Myth?” Journal of Black Studies 39.5 (2007): 761-85. Print.

Rinn, Miriam. “AFRO-LATINOS: African Influences in Latino Culture.” The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Nov 10 1995: 9-. Ethnic NewsWatch. Web. 23 Nov. 2011 < >.

Rosa, Andrew Juan. “El Que no Tiene Dingo, Tiene Mandingo: The Inadequacy of the “Mestizo” as a Theoretical Construct in the Field of Latin American Studies–the Problem and Solution.” Journal of Black Studies 27.2 (1996): 278-. ProQuest Psychology Journals. Web. 23 Nov. 2011.

Sullivan, Edward J. Latin American Art in the Twentieth Century. London: Phaidon, 2000. 85-99. Print.

This entry was posted in Africa, Afro-Latin American culture, culture, history, identity, politics, slavery, Uncategorized, Wifredo Lam. Bookmark the permalink.

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