When Remezcla headed to the fourth edition of New York City’s Afro-Latino Festival this weekend, surrounded by colorful dashikis and bold #BlackLivesMatter t-shirts, we were reminded that the political utility of the Afro-Latino label is more urgent than ever. Speaking with festival attendees, families, and musicians, it became clear that celebrating Afro-Latinidad in times of black trauma isn’t about diverting the focus of anti-racist movements, but about highlighting the diversity of black experiences. As the nation reels from the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and as police violence continues to rattle black and brown communities, Afro-Latinos are uniquely positioned to combat anti-blackness in Latino communities. To that end, we spoke to a group of festival attendees about their Afro-Latinidad in the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Here’s what they had to say.

Interviews by Music Editor Isabelia Herrera and photos by Photo Editor Itzel Alejandra Martinez.

1

Shamaal Sheppard, 21

Where are you from?
I’ve moved all over the place. I was born in Japan. My parents are from Panama. My father is from Panama and my mother is from Augusta, Georgia.

What do you do?
I’m a student at University of Pittsburgh. Currently an intern at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Why did you come to Afro-Latino Fest today?
My beautiful girlfriend bought me and my sister tickets ’cause she knows how proud we are being Afro-Latino and what it means to our family and our history.

What’s the best thing about being a Latino millennial today?
The best thing about being a Latino millennial is that we think differently from the past ways of identifying [as Latino]. Being proud of Latinos and all the diversities within the group.

What’s the worst thing about being a Latino millennial today?
There’s nothing bad about being a Latino.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement influence or affect you?
The Black Lives Matter movement is very important to me because as a black man in the United States of America, I feel that me and everyone who looks like me needs to be treated fairly and equally in the criminal justice system. And in all aspects in life so we that have the same rights and prosperity as everyone else.

What does it mean to be Afro-Latino specifically in context the Black Lives Matter movement?
It means you get to bring the same blackness but with a different culture. It gives a different aspect of the movement and of where people are coming from. But it all applies because we have African ancestors.

2

Tirzah Sheppard, 18

Where are you from?
My family is military but right now we’re in Washington D.C.

What do you do?
I’m a student at Temple University.

Why did you come to Afro-Latino Fest today?
We wanted to see Los Rakas. And of course to get to spend time with other Afro-Latinos, because it’s not a small community but we’re often ignored in the media you know? It’s fun to come and enjoy the culture.

What’s the best thing about being an Afro-Latino millennial today?
The best thing about being an Afro-Latino millennial is that we’re finally being seen. We have all these [movements] – feminism and the Black Lives Matter movement…We’re building representation. We’re finally being seen as people.

What’s the worst thing about being an Afro-Latino millennial?
Like my brother said, there’s nothing wrong with being an Afro-Latino millennial.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement influence or affect you?
It affects me everyday because it’s just horrifying the fact that even if you’re respectful to the police officer, no matter what you do, we’re never seen as equals. That’s all we want. Equality. That’s all we’re looking for.

What does it mean to be Afro-Latino specifically in the Black Lives Matter movement?
So being Afro-Latina, a lot of black people from America don’t have the Latino culture so they try to diminish our importance. They think that we’re not trying to be black, but we are black, we are the same. We just have a different culture. So it’s good we get to have these conversations and try to unite us and have unity in the black community.

3

Melody González Díaz, 24

Where are you from? 
I was born in the Dominican Republic, raised in the Bronx.

What do you do?
I’m an artist, photographer, student, and graphic designer, and I also do a bit of singing but I don’t like to advertise it because I’m not that great but I’m getting there.

Why did you come to Afro-Latino Fest today?
I wanted to feel a sense of community within my people, because in my culture – in the Dominican community – there’s a lot of denial of our blackness, and a lot of white supremacist ideals being instilled in us since childhood. I wanted to feel a sense of acceptance in our blackness and in our roots.

What is the best thing about being a Latino millennial today?
The food, probably [laughs].

What’s the worst thing about being a Latino millennial today?
It’s feeling in-between, like a separation from the struggle. Especially when you’re a light-skinned Latina, it’s like you’re not fully accepted in your culture as a Dominican woman, because I was raised in the Bronx. You’re not fully accepted by pretty much anybody. You just kind of feel like you’re in between.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement influence or affect you?
It affects me because a lot of Dominicans are black. I have black cousins; I have a black father, and I’m scared when they go out into the street. It’s not like, “Oh, that’s a Dominican; that’s a black person.” They only see the dark skin. If I lose my cousin, that directly affects me because I love my cousin, I love my brothers, I love my sister, and it infuriates me. Also Latinos aren’t safe either, because we’re getting killed too. Probably not as much or not to the same degree, but it’s a systemic thing that’s affecting all of us and we have to come together. If we don’t have each other and we keep separating each other from ourselves, then we are just not going to have the support we need to get through this together as people of color.

What does it mean to be Afro-Latino specifically in context the Black Lives Matter movement?
To be Afro-Latino is to be not just Latino, and not just black – to be both. To identify with both – you don’t have to pick a side, you don’t have to be like, “Oh, I’m Latina. Oh, I’m black.” No, you can be, “I’m black and Latina. Afro-Latina.”

When I was younger growing up in school, they were like, “Oh, you’re Dominican; you’re Puerto Rican, you got to choose a side.” And there’s a lot of that, especially in our community. We’re forced to pick sides: Puerto Ricans against Dominicans, Haitians against Dominicans – it’s a mess. We all need to come together and cut that shit out. That shit is what’s keeping us from seeing the bigger picture and seeing the true enemy of who we really have to fight – capitalism and white supremacy.

4

Pedro E. Altagracia, 24

Where are you from?
I’m from the South Bronx, New York City. I was born in Puerto Rico, but my parents are both Dominican.

What do you do?
I graduated college two years ago, so I moved out of the state. I went to college up in New Hampshire; it’s predominantly white. I’m trying to ease my way into a new culture. Right now, I have a couple of things I need to take care of like grad school to be a teacher. I want to teach African history and political science.

Why did you come to Afro-Latino Fest today?
I traveled five hours yesterday morning to come all the way down here to be with people exactly like me. I didn’t really understand my Afro-descendance up until last year. I went to the Dominican Republic to do a little soul searching. I met up with a couple of lawyers and locals about the problem that is happening with Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Through that experience, I figured out where I’m from. I knew that I was Afro-descendant for such a long time, but my parents and my culture have been trying to keep me away from that.

What’s the best thing about being a Latino millennial today?
Honestly, it’s that we’ve grown good things from the traditions our forefathers had. Being disciplined, being passionate, being focused and loving, and generous. As millennials we also continue to encounter the same problems they did – if not tenfold – because nothing has been done for it yet. And we’re reaching a point as young millennials that our patience is exactly where it needs to be, where we can tolerate so much without saying anything about it. That’s something that’s important to us. It’s being able to have a voice and realizing that we need to represent ourselves in a bigger scheme. We don’t have proper representation of people with our needs and our culture and that’s what we need most.

What’s the worst thing about being a Latino millennial today?
The worst thing is that there’s not enough of us who know about who we are and what we stand for. There’s a lot of power in tapping into that history, [which is that] we have been exploited since day one. We continue to be exploited in ways that are a lot more discreet to us because of all the things we’re going through. So now, with all the things that are happening in the current world, currently here in New York City, in Baltimore, Louisiana, in Dallas, wherever it is – it’s imperative for us to do something now and educate our people about our people.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement influence or affect you?
It influenced me because growing up in the South Bronx I realized that me and the black community, as a Latino, we share the same kind of struggle. We’re put low on the socioeconomic spectrum. In order for us to push beyond that we need to come together.

What does it mean to be Afro-Latino specifically in context the Black Lives Matter movement?
It is the most empowering, most beautiful thing. Knowing that you’ve gone through so much, the people have gone through so much before you. And you expose yourself to the most beautiful experience, the most beautiful feelings knowing that where you’re from goes back ages and ages. It brings you power to say something, be relevant in a time, in an event, in a movement that needs you to be relevant, needs you to be active, needs you to be thinking and conversing with people who do not feel the same. Or don’t know about the movement. That’s how we generate our momentum. To get to what we want is simply, getting us together, letting more people know, and tapping into that potential that we all have.

5

Angelique Baehr, 21

Where are you from?
I’m from New York City, but my family is from the Dominican Republic.

What do you do?
I’m a college student.

Why did you come to Afro-Latino Fest today?
Because half of my family is Afro-Latina and I just love the culture and just want to embrace the culture and see different parts of other afro-Latino cultures as well.

What is the best thing about being a Latino millennial today? 
I think the best part is just that we have so much pride in our culture and in our roots and regardless of our differences we all unite as one.

What’s the worst thing about being a Latino millennial today?
Definitely a lot of discrimination that we face, a lot of xenophobia and internalized racism in our communities as well.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement influence or affect you?
It affects me because I have a lot of family members with darker skin who are Afro-Latino and it makes me worried for the state of this country, but the Black Lives Matter movement reinforces that we’re here, we’re here to stay and that our lives matter as much as anybody else’s.

What does it mean to be Afro-Latino specifically in context the Black Lives Matter movement?
It means that not everybody will understand us and our perspectives because we do have the Latino culture as opposed to maybe African-American culture. But we are perceived as the same.

6

Patricia Ureña, 26

Where are you from?
I am from Moca, República Dominicana and was raised in the Bronx, New York and Tampa, Florida.

What do you do?
I am the senior associate director of special events at Barnard College.

Why did you come to Afro-Latino Fest today?
I wanted to take advantage of staying in tune with this kind of community, because these kind of programs are not offered very frequently.

What’s the best thing about being a Latino millennial today?
Being woke. This day and age I feel like we are so in touch and in tune with things that are going on. So knowledgeable. And also, open-mindedness with everything we deal with – with social issues, economic issues, everything.

What’s the worst thing about it?
Feeling like you’re possibly not able to do enough for your community. Not having resources to stay active being presented to you at all. I know that we are in so much communication with each other, but [it’s hard] not being able to be active enough within your community.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement influence or affect you?
I think it influences and affects me everyday. It’s kind of a movement that – although I personally haven’t taken much action in – I’m reading [about]. I’m trying to keep myself in tune with what’s going on. Just walking and being who I am in my skin, the Black Lives Matter movement affects me everyday in that way.

7

Regina Bultron Bengoa, 30

Where are you from?
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, but I’m currently living in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

What do you do?
I’m a consultant. I manage artists, projects, and coordinate events.

Why did you come to Afro-Latino Fest today?
I’ve come every year since its inception. I consider myself Afro-Latina so I really support and enjoy the atmosphere and all the things that happen here that really represent us.

What’s the best thing about being a Latino millennial today?
The access to so many cultures and how you can actually internalize all of them and translate that to whatever it means to you. From multiple dimensions, you can see what [being] Latino is.

What’s the worst thing about being a Latino millennial today?
Misrepresentation.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement influence or affect you?
I feel like a part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

What does it mean to be Afro-Latino specifically in context the Black Lives Matter movement?
Sometimes I feel excluded as an Afro-Latina because here in the U.S. it is very different from back home. When you’re black, you’re just black. But here, you’re African-American, and it’s not the same thing as saying “Afro-Latinos.” I do support the Black Lives Matter movement even though sometimes I might not be considered black.

8

Don J. Palmer, 26

Where are you from? 
Hartford, Connecticut.

What do you do? 
I’m a musician.

Why did you come to Afro-Latino Fest today? 
I’m meeting a friend.

What is the best thing about being a Latino millennial today? 
Uff. The best thing? I’m not white.

What’s the worst thing about being a Latino millennial today?
That I’m black.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement influence or affect you?
It’s really nice to see other people talking about issues that I deal with every day, so it’s comforting to know that other people understand. So I guess that with Facebook and with the social media [movement] that’s been going on I don’t feel as alone anymore.

What does it mean to be Afro-Latino specifically in context the Black Lives Matter movement?
Duck and hide.

9

Rich James, 29

Where are you from?
Originally from Panama but now I reside in Brooklyn.

What do you do?
I’m a dancer! I’m a professional dancer.

Why did you come to Afro-Latino Fest today?
I feel like Afro-Latino describes me as a whole. Just to hear the different sounds, see different people, be with a family of everyone that identifies as the same thing as I do.

What’s the best thing about being a Latino millennial today?
The best thing is that we are one community and we are no longer the minority as you guys can see.

What’s the worst thing about it?
There is no worst thing. You always have to represent where you’re from no matter where you are or what – it doesn’t matter. You always have to represent.

How does the Black Lives Matter movement influence or affect you?
Not only am I Latino, I’m also black when someone looks at me. So of course, Black Lives Matter is to me [about being] Hispanic, like a whole umbrella of everything. Every life matters.

What does it mean to be Afro-Latino specifically in context the Black Lives Matter movement?
It means that we’re black also. It doesn’t mean that “Oh, just because I’m Latino it separates me from being black.” I think it’s all the same thing.