11 Afro-Latinxs on How Their Heritage Influences Their Style
“I grew up with women being very comfortable in their bodies.”
With the Latinx diaspora expanding over 20 countries, “Hispanic” isn’t a one-size-fits-all term—especially when it comes to beauty and style. As Hispanic womxn, we’re challenging these narratives by embracing all aspects of our culture and choosing which ones are right for us. This Hispanic Heritage Month, HelloGiggles will be taking a deep dive into the beauty of our culture through Mi Cultura, Mi Belleza. We’ll be featuring essays about hair and identity, giving beauty tips from our abuelitas, highlighting the unique style of the Afro-Latina community, and more.
In mainstream media, there is a dearth of Latinx, especially Afro-Latinx, representation. Although the community comes in all different shades, sizes, and backgrounds, Afro-Latinx people are often depicted as stereotypes, and numerous subcultures are rarely shown. This is especially the case when it comes to style and beauty.
Frequently, members of the Afro-Latinx community highlight our heritage through the fashions we wear. Our style comes from the areas we live in, pop culture, and our families. And although most Latinx cultures still place a priority on Eurocentric beauty and fashion standards, there has been more encouragement in recent years for Afro-Latinx individuals to embrace their curly/kinky hair, dark skin, and unique style. Social media accounts like #IAMENOUGH, Ain’t I Latina?, and The Afrolatin Diaspora, for instance, regularly uplift and celebrate the community. So in honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re taking the time to highlight various Afro-Latinx people and their diverse, individual styles.
Through photos and quotes, we’re showcasing the variety of Afro-Latinx style influences, noting the different ways we channel our culture into everyday looks, and discussing why we should no longer be pigeonholed into stereotypes. Below, 11 Afro-Latinx people speak to the outfits they feel best represent who they are as individuals and the ones that showcase their individual connection to their culture.
Oscar Montoya, Los Angeles, CA
“I am an Afro-Colombian, and I’m very attracted to loud patterns and bright colors, which reflect my vibe. Some would say I tend to dress like a middle school kid from the ‘90s, and I’m not mad at that. Being an immigrant kid from Palmira, Colombia, I spent most of my time in middle school trying to blend in and assimilate, because if you were different in any way, you were targeted. And as an Afro-Colombian queer kid who didn’t speak English, I was a walking bullseye. Luckily, those days are long behind me. I’m done with hiding and blending in, and my style reflects that.
“When most people would be afraid of wearing something that is too loud, too bold, or too matchy, I will run toward it (my mask/hat combo has been my favorite look during quarantine).
“People my age tend to shy away from color and pattern and associate it with looking ‘childish.’ But my philosophy is: If I wore it as a 10-year-old, I’m gonna wear the same thing as a 50-year-old. Fashion has no age!
“I’m also a drag performer (named Ozma), so my whole vibe is to stand out and be 100% proud of all the different parts that make me special.”
Norma Maldonado, Los Angeles, CA
“My style is a little boho and flowy. I’m inspired by Moroccan clothes. Having Andalusian heritage, which is so close to Morocco, I’m drawn to comfort and ease. Being Boricua, I love tropical colors and light and airy clothes. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I loved seeing the beautiful skirts and flowery dresses. But I also love jeans and tees.
“The south of Spain is known for its hot climate and being coastal; you get a reprieve from the heat, much like Puerto Rico. Wearing clothes that ‘breathe’ and flow [helps me feel] comfortable and feminine. Skirts are fun because you feel less restrict[ed]. The last thing you want in the heat are restrictive clothes. Puerto Ricans are a festive people. We love to celebrate life, and one way is through how we dress. As a high schooler, I had to wear a uniform. In fact, most schools in PR require uniforms. After school I’d come home, shower off the [sweat], and put on something fun and expressive, like off-the-shoulder blouses with either a skirt or jeans.”
Tiana Cordero, New York, NY
“My fashion is part of my identity. It allows me to express my personality and Afro-Latinitad. From my hair to my skin to my clothes and headwraps [and] all the way down to my shoes, I am exercising my freedom of creative expression. I am able to show off my African diasporic roots [by] blending in with my indigenous ancestors of the Taino Indians through the vibrant colors and patterns of design I choose to wear. The colors I choose to wear are strong, lively, and as bold as my ancestors’ culture.”
Leslie Lluvet, Los Angeles, CA
“Fashion for me is a lifestyle. What you wear represents who you are. My style is a feminine essence with a masculine touch. My outfits represent the way I feel every day, where I come from, who I am, and who I’m becoming.
“I indulge in different styles and enticing designs. I come from the largest island in the Caribbean—Havana, Cuba—and the colors I choose [to dress in] reflect my culture. I love wearing fine threads and flowing dresses. That’s where my Caribbean blood kicks in. I put on my sultry red dresses and whole white suits when the night falls. I love wearing bright reds mixed in with those bits and pieces of colors of the Saint Chango.
“I always wear a bit of Cuba on me; my soul has never left this island. I make sure to reflect that every time I’m on a red carpet. If I wasn’t an actress, writer, or director, I would be in the fashion industry. My fashion is a statement of my Cuban blood and [in honor of] my ancestors.”
Vivian Lamolli, Los Angeles, CA
“I would describe my style as sexy, flirtatious, fun, and athletic, with a very ‘live your best life’ essence! I definitely believe in feeling comfortable in your skin but also in not taking yourself too seriously.
“My mother is from Cuba and my father [is] from Puerto Rico, but both grew up in the concrete jungles of New York City. The frisky, cool flair for colors, showing off my curves, and pride in my body most definitely comes from the culture of these two islands. Every time I get dressed, I think ‘you only live once,’ so I love pushing the envelope. And fashion is an expression of that happiness, I believe—like singing, dancing, enjoying the love and life of my CubaRican roots.”
Mia Valdez, San Antonio, TX
“I’m a dark-skinned Afro-Latina. My style influences are Mindy Kaling, Keira Knightley, and the comedy duo Desus and Mero. Kaling, because I’m naturally loud and colorful. I’m also quirky and adorable. Keira Knightley, because I spent ages 12-19 trying to be a thin white woman. Desus and Mero, because they make me laugh. I don’t always dress the part, but my style has definitely been influenced by their swag. They make me feel carefree and powerful, like I got the tia/aunty gang ready to run up on anyone who says something.
“My style influences are a strategic selection of how I am allowed to express my ethnic identity (as a dark-skinned biracial woman whose Hispanic heritage is frequently policed), how I have tried to suppress it, and how, finally, I am learning to celebrate it.”
Alexandrina Andre, Queens, NY
“I am a first-generation Haitian-Dominican director/writer. Being a first-generation Caribbean American [made me] enamored [of] incredibly diverse people and fashion. I grew up with women being very comfortable in their bodies, and that influenced my style. My mother is my biggest inspiration, especially in style, because she wore what she wanted to wear and it was always beautiful. She would wear big colorful earrings and a necklace with a white tank top and shorts just to go to the store. So if I am wearing a tank top and shorts, I have a colorful headwrap and hoop earrings. These are small ways I keep my culture and my upbringing.
“I’m also influenced by a range of creative women. Erykah Badu’s headwrap and Afro, Frida Kahlo’s floral headband and unibrow, Rihanna’s and Grace Jones’s confidence in their bodies, and Grace Jones’s confidence and boldness of her skin color—these things inspire me to show that part of myself to the world. They are and were risk takers who were not afraid to show who they were through what they wore.
“I believe style is a way for us to show the world who we are without saying a word. I choose to showcase my style and culture in conventional and unconventional ways. I travel a lot, and when I do travel I choose to wear more colorful patterns to showcase the Caribbean and Afro-Latinx community. I also do it when I’m writing and in my films, through my character’s image and how they dress. Even if the characters don’t look like me, my style and visions are in the scenes, set designs, etc. And every day when I walk outside the door, I am a walking showcase of my culture, from the color of my skin to my hair to my big gold hoop earrings and red lipstick. I am an image of the Afro-Latinx Caribbean culture.”
Lydiana Guzman, Los Angeles, CA
“My style is a reflection of my Puerto Rican culture and the beautiful colors around my island. I love to wear the ones that enhance my golden brown skin. Intense and jovial colors like reds (rojo flamboyán!) are my go-to for evening events—although I also love rocking black garments paired with cheerful makeup and my forever favorite, red lips. Earthy tones like greens, tans, and browns paired with denim items are my preferred [style] for daytime. Overall, the clothing I select needs to reflect who I am while being comfortable and flattering.”
Monica Anita, Los Angeles, CA
“I live for prints, patterns, and a power clash. I’m Afro-Latin (Dominican) and South Asian (Sri Lankan), so my sense of fashion is about combining cultures. Both countries have made an art of layering beautifully rich and colorful fabrics, which my closet is full of. My mom always wore a bright, colorful dress with matching jewelry for Easter Sunday, and I understand the power of a bold outfit because of her!”
Celeste Sully, Chicago, IL
“My style is inspired by memories of driving up from Chicago to Toronto to celebrate the Caribana Music Festival with my family every summer as a youth. The vivid colors, amazing food, and music resonate in my style to this day. Combined with my love for vintage fashion, I’m constantly seeking new ways to express myself while paying homage to my Guyanese roots, whether it’s through incorporating bold colors that remind me of my days celebrating Caribana or [wearing] flowy items that remind me of the very meaning of Guyana’s name, ‘land of many waters.’”
Kay Lopez, Richmond, VA
“My style has to be as flexible as my life, easy to transform from a day outfit into a night one, as adjustable as my erratic work schedule. I love colors and always try to wear accessories that encompass all aspects of my Puerto Rican, Taino, Afro-Caribbean, and Spaniard culture. The color red encompasses the passion and strength of my people. [That’s why] it’s my go-to color, and I’ll pair a dress up with red heels or red lipstick. My accessories are often ‘artesanias’—handmade by the people of my island.”