Afro-Asian Lives and Cultures in Latin America

Oct. 13, 2021

By Michelle Tong

On Friday, September 24, 2021, Professor Christina Lee hosted a virtual conference that focused on highlighting the complexities and cultural richness of Afro-Asian identities and communities in Latin America. The conference featured prominent speakers who presented talks focusing on a different aspect of this rich field of study.

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Photo by Yangyou Fang

“I wanted to bring together the scholars who challenge and expand on established notions of mestizaje (racial mixing) in Latin America," said Lee.

Lee originally developed the idea for this event back in 2019 after reading the book “Afro-Asian Connections in Latin America and the Caribbean,” edited by Debbie Lee-DiStefano and Luisa Ossa who were also the first presenters during the program

During their presentations, Lee-DiStefano and Ossa each highlighted their inspirations behind their book and addressed their personal “why” behind pursuing to research Afro-Asian connections. They also shared with the audience their hopes for the future of this topic of study while emphasizing a need to not only expand on the research, but also to question historical perceptions and to move beyond one-dimensional depictions of marginalized and underrepresented identities and communities.

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Presentation by Debbie Lee-DiStefano. Photo by Yangyou Fang

Each of the presentations throughout the conference touched on the various facets that illustrate the complexities and rich history of Afro-Asians in Latin America. This included the origin of Afro-Asian identity in the Americas, the historical representation of Asian labor, and Afro-Chinese identity in Cuba. Presenters not only shared their research, but also drew on personal narratives to illustrate the significance of this topic. Furthermore, conference participants and audience members were also given the opportunity to ask questions and engage in follow-up conversations.

Lee said, “We should continue to investigate the personal and communal bonds that were forged between subjects of African and Asian descent from the mid-sixteenth century onwards in Latin America, but without overlooking the tensions and conflicts that have also marked their histories.”

Overall, this event not only provided the opportunity to present and discuss the current research that has been done, but to also showcase the need to probe deeper and better highlight the contributions that different identities brought to the culture, history and diversity of Latin America.