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Ph.D. student gathers experiences of black women from around the world (via Winston Salem Chronicle –)

Krishauna Hines-Gaither is exploring the vastness of the African Diaspora right here in her hometown.

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro doctoral student has spent nearly eight years studying the growing number of local residents who have black skin but are not African American. In her studies, she has discovered blacks who hail from all over the globe, proof that the slave trade was truly a global enterprise.

Hines-Gaither, who teaches Spanish at Salem College, first became interested in the subject after visiting Mexico in 1998.

“I went to Acapulco, which is on the coast,” she related, noting that the descendants of African slaves are most often found in coastal areas of Latin America. “…I saw all of these black people. I had no idea they were there. I was totally shocked.”

Intrigued by the notion that she and her Spanish speaking counterparts had some cultural heritage in common, Hines-Gaither began talking to the people she encountered in hopes of learning more about Afro-Mexican history.

“When I started asking them questions about their own history or heritage, they didn’t know either,” she reported. “They could look at me and recognize the similarities but they had no idea of their history. It’s a history of silence and denial.”

Despite considerable digging, Hines-Gaither said little information was available about Afro-Latino culture, even though Latin America was once home to five times as many slaves as the United States, according to her research.

Hines-Gaither, who has both a master’s degree (from Wake Forest University) and a bachelor’s degree (from Salem) in Spanish Education, began to tackle the topic in earnest when she enrolled in the doctoral program. In 2005, she acquired a 10-day work visa to travel to Cuba to collect data about Afro-Cubans. The research she gathered will help her with her dissertation, which focuses on black Latina immigrants in North Carolina.

Colon, Panama native Avis Williams-Smith is among the Afro-Latina subjects Hines-Gaither has interviewed thus far. Williams-Smith, a mother of three, said she was happy to be involved with the project.

“I think the project is awesome to present a different view of the Hispanic woman. It’s definitely different for us. It’s much more difficult from my perspective because I kind of feel like I don’t fit into any one mold,” said Williams-Smith, a medical interpretation student at GTCC. “I’m a black woman – that’s what everyone sees – but I can’t change my culture, I’m a Hispanic woman as well. I thought it was awesome that she addressed that. We were kind of invisible. Black Hispanic females are never discussed or talked about or anything.”

Panama native Avis Williams-Smith and her daughter, Arianette.

(Panama native Avis Williams-Smith and her daughter, Arianette.)

Williams-Smith said she was aware of her familial heritage, which can be traced back to Jamaica, but she never thought of herself as a black woman before moving to America to pursue her master’s degree in linguistics and literature at Penn State University.

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