In 1969, Nina Simone released “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” – a song meant to uplift the black community. Nearly 50 years later, lyrics like “we must begin to tell our young / there’s a world waiting for you / this is a quest that’s just begun” resonate just as much as when Simone dedicated the song to A Raisin in the Sun author Lorraine Hansberry.
In the midst of Black History Month, African-Americans of the past and present are being acknowledged for their contributions. However – as Juliana Pache, the creator of the #BlackLatinxHistory hashtag came to realize – Afro-Latinos are often left out of the conversation, because black and Latino are incorrectly seen as mutually exclusive.
But with community groups like Mexico Negro fighting for formal recognition in Mexico or Marcha do Empoderamento Crespo proudly repping natural hair in Brazil, you can see the African diaspora is thriving in Latin America. Similarly, in the United States, there are people advocating for more visibility for Afro-Latinos.
Here are 15 young, emerging Afro-Latino voices in the United States and Latin America who are working to create more visibility for their communities and experiences. These are just a handful of the young people out there doing great work – if you’ve got other suggestions, leave them in the comments!
Jeferson Lima, Photographer
Jeferson Lima‘s photography showcases the black spirit of Salvador da Bahia, a Brazilian port city that was once the most important slave trade center in the Americas, and today still has very strong roots in African culture. In January 2015, Lima started his Instagram account, Soteropolitane.se, to really capture what his city is like.
“Our city is made up of black people,” he said to Remezcla. “We are 80 percent of the population, and yet, we didn’t feel represented in programs and commercials, as well as online magazines and other [forms of] media. That’s when I had the idea to show to all people how beautiful our black people are.”
But Lima also wants other Afro-Brazilians to have something that they can relate to, something that represents them. Lima is part of a growing movement of black pride in Brazil. In 2015, more Brazilians identified as black than in the 10 previous years, something that sociologists believe is tied to more positive attitudes toward race.
Magdalena Albizu, Writer/Director/Producer
For the past few years, Magdalena Albizu has been working on Negrita: Racially Black and Ethnically Latina – a documentary about the Afro-Latina experience in the United States.
“‘Negrita’ focuses solely on the Afro-Latina experience and identity in the United States unlike other projects which focus on the Afro-Latino perspective in Latin America,” Albizu told La Respuesta. “Our documentary explored the multilayered identity of being a US Latina of African descent. In order to capture a well-rounded perspective, Negrita will cover Afro-Latinas in multiple cities across the USA, such as New York, Chicago, Miami, and LA.” The documentary is still in production, but you can get a glimpse below.
On top of learning about Afro-Latinidad from other people, Albizu shares her own experience growing up in a Dominican household. It wasn’t until someone called her black that she really started embracing that side of her identity.
Albizu hopes to create a curriculum so that grade school students can learn early on what it’s like to be an Afro-Latina in the U.S.
Isha Sumner, Chef/Writer
Honduran food is often defined by baleadas, and along the Caribbean coast of the Central American country, they are probably serving it the Garifuna way – on coconut flour tortillas. The Gariganu are a community of Afro-Latino descent, who live mainly on the coasts of Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. While there is a community of 200,000 Gariganu in the Bronx, mainly from Honduras, there is no restaurant that serves their cuisine
Isha Sumner, a New York-based chef from Honduras, was interested in documenting the delicious foods she grew up with, but she found it difficult to find things like tejaditas de guineo, coconut milk porridge, and other Garifuna staples in cookbooks.
“I wanted a cookbook with all these cherished foods,” she told us. “I searched the Internet, but I wasn’t pleased with what I found. Having lived my formative years in Honduras, I knew that most of the books were one-sided. The foods from Honduras are diverse.”
Books don’t do the Honduran cuisine justice, and to Isha, it’s this mix that makes Honduran food so special. And now she’s working on showcasing Garifuna food through her own cookbook.
Her Facebook page, Weiga/Let’s Eat, is a small peek into what her book will offer, and people have been responding positively to what she’s been doing. “People from everywhere in the world want to try Garifuna food, Honduran food,” she said. “That’s the idea: to open up the horizons so that other people can also enjoy some of the foods we cherish!”
Walter Thompson-Hernandez, Writer/Academic
As an academic, Walter Thompson-Hernandez was interested in the stories of Los Angeles’ Blaxicans – people who, like him, are both African-American and Mexican – but it was their personal stories that inspired him to expand the conversation. And that’s how he ended up documenting LA’s Blaxicans on an Instagram account.
Though he’s taking a break from the project, the Blaxican project can be seen at Avenue 50 Studios until March 5. Meanwhile, Thompson-Hernandez will continue writing about Blaxicans and Afro-Latinidad at different publications, including our own.
Thompson-Hernandez credits The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States, for sparking his interest. “I have been inspired to write about Afro-Latinos, Blaxicans, and other Latinos who identify with their African ancestry because I never saw people who identified the way I do in my favorite novels and magazines as a young person,” he told Remezcla. “I never saw people who looked like me, spoke like me, and navigated the world with a similar lens. Those who were writing about Black and Latino experiences were usually writing about them as two separate entities, which only added to the confusion that I felt as the son of an African-American father and Mexican mother in Los Angeles.”
Janel Martinez, Journalist
With her Ain’t I Latina website, Honduran-American Janel Martinez has created a hub for Afro-Latinas. Everything from celebrity gossip to career advice can be found on her site. Essentially, she has built the site she wishes existed when she was growing up.
“I grew up watching shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Living Single, Martin, and so many others, and loved reading through Jet, Ebony, Essence, and later Latina,” she told us. “And while I appreciated seeing so many amazing Black actors/actresses and all-around influential people, and Latinos, I was always looking for myself in the media I was consuming. I was looking for Afro-Latinas/os. Media is influential and what you don’t see is just as powerful as what you do. So, after graduating from journalism school, I wanted to create articles that spoke to me and resonated with others who wanted very similar content.”
And the experience is also rewarding for her; she has tapped into the Internet’s Afro-Latina sisterhood.
Ariana Brown, Spoken word poet
Afromexicana Ariana Brown is an award-winning poet from San Antonio, Texas. In 2014, she won the Best Poet award at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, and her work will be featured in the forthcoming ¡Manteca!: An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets from Arte Público Press.
Last year, Brown’s powerful delivery of Invocation, her poem about her identity and mixed-race hair, put her on people’s radar. And others with “busted chongos” had someone to identify with – something Brown struggled with as a child.
“I remember reading books and being so invested in the characters and the story, and then I would get to a certain line in the story where it would describe what the character looked like,” she told PBS. “And then I would realize, this book is not talking about me. Part of my work is to always go back for little girl Ariana and figure out what it is she needed that she didn’t get.”
Miss Rizos, Natural hair advocate
Being the face of the natural hair movement in the Dominican Republic means that Carolina Contreras, aka Miss Rizos, has faced her share of hate. One time, an Afro-Latino bouncer denied her and her friends entry to a club because they were rocking their pajóns. And even in her own family, her brother would say her hair was “nappy” and that it wasn’t a good look for her.
But this self-starter who opened up one of the DR’s first natural hair salons didn’t let this stop her. With the bouncer, she lawyered up and got the club to apologize, and as for her brother, she made him realize that his words would be damaging to his own curly-haired daughter.
Miss Rizos doesn’t believe everyone needs to show off their natural hair, but she does want the world to embrace curly hair. “[I want] to influence and make sure that the laws in Latin America that are already set in place to protect women who want to wear their hair naturally are enforced,” she told Remezcla. “My vision is to eradicate discrimination against curly hair all over Latin America.”
In 2009, Maluca broke out with “El Tigeraso,” an infectious track whose video featured her walking around in rolos and telling off cat callers. Since then, she has continued to make music that touches on her Dominican identity. Under the tutelage of Robyn, Maluca released several mixtapes.
The Dominican rave goddess used her latest track, “Mala,” as a way to tell the natural hair haters to step off. On top of penning self-love anthems, Maluca gets real with her followers.
Last December, she talked about her sobriety on Facebook.”This year was an amazing fucking year!!” she said. I marked an amazing milestone: 1 YEAR SOBER! I don’t really get too personal but thought I’d share because I know so many ppl struggle with addiction.”
Mexican rapper Bocafloja – who started his career in the 90s with spoken word poetry and has dabbled in filmmaking, theater, and political activism – is known to shoot for classic sounds with his music, which deals with anti-black racism and indigenous rights. His new documentary Nana Dijo is a continuation of that. Here, he and Cambiowashere confront anti-blackness in Latin America.
“I understand this as a historical responsibility in which we reclaim our narratives from a perspective that is not subjugated to cultural hegemonies,” he told us. “Most of the visual work that has been done in regards to the African Diaspora in Mexico or Latin America happens to be inclusionist, politically safe and focused on a culturalist approach instead of other more transgressive elements that are inherent in the whole experience.”
He and Cambiowashere didn’t want to go the traditional route with the film, so they set out to get first person accounts to tell this story. Check out our feature on Bocafloja’s new doc here.
Danay Suarez, Rapper
Before she worked in music, Danay Suarez was a computers professor in Cuba. In 2011, DJ Gilles discovered Danay Suarez – a musician whose soulful can seamlessly move between rapping and singing in a manner she compares to jazz singers and instrumentalists. After Jay Z released “Open Letter,” a response to all the criticism over his Cuba trip in 2013, Suarez was one of the handful of artists who responded.
While Pitbull’s was more anti-Castro than anything else, Suarez looked to the future. “It was a nice gesture that he visited our marvelous island, we should develop our fraternity, not focus on our differences,” she wrote on Facebook, according to Afropop.
Princess Nokia, Musician
Destiny Frasqueri, aka Princess Nokia, is a hero solely for writing “Dragons,” a song based off of Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo. But the musician of Puerto Rican descent also uses her music to pay tribute Afro-Latinidad and indigenous roots, as she does on her Metallic Butterfly EP.
“The beautiful conceptualism of the women from the inner city, which I think is very important to embrace now because media has put the whole ratchet thing, and the whole ‘turnt’ thing as the definition of the inner city community and the black community,” she told Complex. “I’m Latin, I’m Afro-Latina but I identify as a very strong black woman and I do not want to be associated with what the fucking media assumes I am.”
Amanda Alcantara, Writer
In 2015, Amanda Alcantara started La Galería – a magazine for Dominicans on and off the island. The name is a reference to the location where most conversations take place in the DR: in front of houses. Teaming up with fellow writers Isabel Cristina and Ynanna Djehuty, they started the magazine and have been developing a growing following from the community, who looks to La Galeria as a place to foster dialogue and action surrounding issues of concern to the Dominican diaspora – for instance, the recent controversy over the DR’s expulsion of Dominicans of Haitian descent.
“Combined, we did all the work necessary to put together the magazine, and we launched February 5 ,” she told Cosmopolitian. “I think [the fact] that we are three Dominican women who identify as having African descent also puts us in a special place to talk about the intersections of gender, race, and class. We get to talk about issues of race, identity, sexuality, and machismo from not only a second point of view but also from a first point of view — from our own experiences.”
After the first issue of La Galería was published, people quickly asked for more.
Zahira Kelly, Artist/Writer
Zahira Kelly, most commonly known on Twitter as The Bad Dominicana, is an artist and writer. As someone who has raised in both NYC and the DR, Kelly has been inspired by both cultures.
“In my writing, dynamic use of social media, and at speaking events, I employ indigenous style storytelling, no-holds barred analysis of abuse culture, colonialism, social power dynamics and critique of media and pop culture,” she says on her site. “I aim to pick apart white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy from an anti-colonial Afro-Latina perspective.”
Just as many others on this list, Kelly struggled to find a reflection of herself in the media, both in the US and the DR. But as she got older, she started questioning these status quo, and her art is reflective of that. She runs an online shop with items that speak to the Afro-Latina community.
Tamika Burgess, Blogger
Every month, Tamika Burgess puts together a newsletter that captures the “wonderful contributions Afro-Latinas are making to further advance our presence” through Eso Es Mi Cultura.
Burgess launched the site in February 2015. Burgess – a California native who has a BA in communications – also writes another blog called The Essence of Me. There, she highlights other amazing Afro-Latinas.
Casandra Rosario, Food blogger
Casandra Rosario may be an event planner these days, but early in her career she landed at JP Morgan. “I was working on mortgages, foreclosures and things like that,” she told The New Quo. “Totally not related to what I wanted to do. But that’s where the blog came from.”
She didn’t love what she was doing, and she felt trapped. So as a lifelong foodie, she started her blog, Food Before Love. Friends were always asking her for food recommendations, and as an Afro-Boricua, she felt that channels like the Food Network didn’t represent her and her tastes.
And everything has grown from there. She has hosted a Singles Bite Out event, where she teamed up with a relationship coach to help people with the dos and don’ts of dating.
She also started The Rosario Group, an events and social media management agency.