This is similar to the differentiation of a common term of creole and an ethnic group like the Creoles of Louisiana. The usage, outside of the specific ethnicity of the Cocolos of San Pedro de Macorís, is vague, and at times the word can mean all blacks or all the poor of any race or those that identify with the Afro-Latino culture and music, such as Salsa and other Spanish Afro-Caribbean musical genres. It is a term which is often used with pride to refer to oneself, yet can be taken as an insult when others use it.
The origin of the word is unclear. In the Dominican Republic, "Cocolo" was historically used to refer to Afro-Caribbean descendants who came to the cities of San Pedro de Macorís, Puerto Plata, and other areas to work on the docks and sugar cane plantations at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The word is used in the song in English language "San Pedro de Macorís" by Juan Luis Guerra singer.
The descendants of the African-American freed slaves who live on the Samaná Peninsula are never called "cocolos," however. They are referred to as "Los Americanos" ("The Americans").
This word migrated to Puerto Rico where it was used by some to refer to dark-skinned Dominicans and Africans in general. In 1937, however, it only meant Black in Puerto Rico. Later, the term "cocolo" would become a slang term describing the subculture which followed Afro-Latino music, especially salsa as opposed to rock music (those were called "rockeros"). In the Puerto Rico of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the rivalry between "cocolos" and "rockeros" was similar to the rivalry between the Mods and the Rockers in 1960s England.