In his essay "’Blaxicans’ and Other Reinvented Americans,” Richard Rodriguez writes that “The immigrant, in mythic terms, travels from the outermost rind of America to the very center of American mythology.” The position particular immigrants occupy in that myth, however, is in constant flux. They may enter, as Irish and Italian migrants did a century ago, as the boogeymen of the American mythos, with tenement slums rising in their wake, importing superstitious Catholicism to our tidily Protestant country. But these former boogeymen have evolved in the myth, becoming the proud, hard-working, legally emigrating forefathers from whose lineage politicians clamor to remind us that they’ve sprung. Having vindicated immigrants of years past, the myth spins and adapts to demonize the immigrants of today.
It’s an election year, and one in which the myth of the immigrant is more relevant than ever, as some Republican candidates cast the perceived threat of Mexican and Syrian immigration as the most pressing issue facing America. Simultaneously, Black Lives Matter and a generally reinvigorated movement for racial civil rights have foregrounded the experiences of black Americans. Despite the similar constellation of issues the black and Latino communities face—widespread poverty, life under the specter of American racism, mass disenfranchisement, and many more—the African- and Latino-American communities are generally considered to be separate and distinct. By highlighting individuals who, like himself, embody the intersection of L.A.'s black and Latino communities, Walter Thompson Hernandez’s project, Blaxicans of L.A., illuminates the commonalities shared by the two groups.
"The Blaxicans of L.A. project began when I was a graduate student at Stanford University,” Thompson-Hernandez tells The Creators Project. "I was really interested in trying to understand how people (like myself) who identify as Blaxicans and/or Afro-Latinos in Los Angeles make sense of the world around them.” The Humans of New York-style portrait and interview series, which first caught attention as an Instagram account, opens today as an exhibit at Los Angeles’s Avenue 50 Studio. The Afro-Latinos Thompson-Hernandez features are from all walks of life, and discuss how they conceptualize their hyphenated identities.
"I tell people that I'm an Afro-Latina because I am both and I feel strongly about that,” says one hijabi. "I'm not just going to say that I'm Puerto Rican or I'm black."
“This project is deeply political,” writes Thompson-Hernandez. "We are existing in a time when the rise of racist and fascist candidates like Donald Trump are making Black and Latino challenges, experiences, and stories increasingly interconnected…As a Blaxican or an Afro-Latinos, you are deeply affected by racially biased policing and the increase in deportations—and sometimes at the same time because Latinos of African descent continue to be the victims of both. It’s our role as artists, educators, and creatives, to combat these issues by engaging in projects that diminish the barriers that continue to divide our stories. The stakes, in a sense, have never been higher."