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12 Negotiating Blackness within the Multicultural State Creole Politics and Identity in Nicaragua Juliet Hooker How are Afro-descendant Creoles currently reimagining their collective identities in Nicaragua in the context of multicultural policies that guarantee collective rights to land and culture to both the indigenous and Afro-descendant inhabitants of the country’s Atlantic coast? In the context of a Nicaraguan nation that is portrayed as overwhelmingly mestizo or Indo-Hispanic, English-speaking Creoles have imagined and represented their collective identities in shifting and multiple ways over the course of the twentieth century (Gordon 1998). Currently ,many Creoles are asserting a strong“black”racial group identity imagined in terms of transnational connections to the African diaspora, including to an African past and Afro-Caribbean ancestry. I am especially interested in analyzing the connections between the current emphasis on blackness in conceptions of Creole identity and changes to Nicaragua’s model of multiculturalism that begin to recognize the existence of racial hierarchy and to implement specific policies to combat racism and racial discrimination. In particular, I seek to illustrate the dialectical relationship between rights and identities evidenced by the impact of multicultural policies on the self-making strategies of Nicaraguan Creoles and by how such policies are shaped by the forms of activism emerging from current imaginings of Creole collective identity. My analysis of the way Afro-descendant Creoles in Nicaragua are currently imagining their collective identity and negotiating blackness in the context of official multiculturalism is framed by two seemingly unrelated events. The first was a special series about Afro-Latin Americans that was published in the Miami Herald during 2007, specifically an article focused on the “emergent black cultural and civil rights movement” among Creoles in Nicaragua. The article was notable both because the comments of those interviewed illustrate how Creole racial identity is currently being imagined,and because of the reactions it provoked among other sectors of the Creole community. Interestingly, what was  Creole Politics and Identity in Nicaragua  265 most striking about the article was the quote and accompanying photograph of a contestant in a Miss Black Pride beauty pageant being held in the Creole community of Pearl Lagoon. When describing her dress to the reporter the young Creole woman said:“It reminds me of Africa. I’m so proud of my heritage and my ancestry” (Burch 2007). This seemingly innocuous statement of pride in one’s racial ancestry was noteworthy for a number of reasons. One was that (at least to this observer) there was nothing about the pink sequined dress pictured in the accompanying photograph that would immediately signal a connection to Africa. Another reason was because of the mere fact of the reference to Africa itself, given that it seems more temporally and geographically feasible for Nicaraguan Creoles to establish connections to people of African descent in the diaspora than to Africa. The second event that frames my analysis occurred at a conference on the black presence in Mesoamerica, where I presented a paper on Creole politics and history and the construction of Nicaraguan citizenship in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.At the end of my presentation, a prominent historian of Africa asked: “Where is Africa?” In other words, he wanted to know what role a connection to an African past played in Creole self-making practices. When confronted with this question, I realized that it was not one I could readily answer, in large part because a connection to Africa seemed rather absent from Creole accounts of their historical development as a group, which tended to emphasize links to people of African descent in the Caribbean. This question coupled with the young black beauty pageant contestant’s comment about Africa led to another set of questions: What does it means to be Creole , and/or black or Afro-descendant in Nicaragua today in the context of a self-proclaimed multicultural state? What does it mean to be Creole and/or black in multicultural Nicaragua? How is blackness negotiated and lived today in a state where multiculturalism has become official state policy, but where, historically, racial hierarchy and racism have not been recognized? How are these identities negotiated and remade in the context of struggles for justice and equality? In order to examine these questions it is necessary to understand the historical context in which these different self-conceptions of Creole identity are unfolding in Nicaragua. Creoles are not the only Afro-descendants in Nicaragua, but they are the group generally most associated with...


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