This Black History Month, celebrate the work of Afro-Latinas who challenge what Latinidad looks like
Latin America is racially diverse, but in the United States, we’re not often taught to think of those countries in that way. While some of this diversity results from recent immigration from other parts of the world, the Americas’ history of African and indigenous slavery means that most of this diversity was not voluntary. In spite of this unjust history, Afro-Latinx people—Latinx folks with African ancestry—have made so many important contributions to culture in Latin America and beyond.
Recognizing the work of Afro-Latinas is not a trend, nor is it something we should just do for a moment or for a month. Recognizing, celebrating, and amplifying their contributions to Latinidad is something we must do all year—but both Latin American media and U.S. media hardly scratch the surface of Black identity in Latinx communities. Latina women with darker skin or tight curls are rarely represented in pop culture, and anti-Blackness in Latinx communities is an ongoing problem.
But Afro-Latinas have always been doing their thing, and thanks to social media, their contributions have a larger platform. From businesswomen, to musicians, to writers, and more, Afro-Latina women are making cultural impacts that will last (or have lasted) even after their lifetimes. Here are just some of the Afro-Latina women that we should celebrate during Black History Month and every month:
1Julia de Burgos
Julia de Burgos is a Puerto Rican poet who tackled the complexities of womanhood, social inequality, and feminism in the 1930s until her death in 1953—a time when these issues were not part of the national conversation. Her work continues to influence other Afro-Latinx writers in the Caribbean, and her work is referenced in history and poetry classes around the world. de Burgos was a revolutionary who was very involved in Puerto Rican and Nuyorican politics.
Gwen Ifill is a Panamanian and Barbadian journalist, and also the first Black woman to host a national political talk show. Her work paved the way for so many more Black journalists and journalists of color in a majority white industry, even in diverse cities like N.Y.C. Ifill’s work on Washington Week with Gwen Ifill & National Journal won her a Peabody Award, and her reporting can also be seen in major publications and networks including the New York Times, PBS, and The Washington Post. Gwen passed away in 2016, but her legacy lives on. Simmons College even recently named a media program after her.
Noëlle Santos is the Bronx native and Boriqua behind the soon to be Lit Bar, a bookstore and wine bar in the South Bronx. Santos’s entrepreneurial skills have been featured in citywide and national publications. She is passionate about giving back to her community, building a business integrated into the needs of the surrounding community, and showing other aspiring business owners that their ideas are possible.
4Amara La Negra
Singer Amara La Negra blew up online when a clip of her in Love & Hip Hop: Miami went viral. In it, Amara had to defend being her authentic self to a music producer—dark skin, afro, and all. She empowered Afro-Latinas everywhere to be themselves, and not to conform to a more Eurocentric beauty standard in hopes of becoming more successful. La Negra has a huge social media following and is also a children’s book author.
We all know Cardi B and what she’s about. This Trinidadian Dominican rapper is a force of nature who made it to the top of the rap game with her skillful delivery and witty personality—all without having to code switch. In February, she became the first solo female artist to win the Grammy for Best Rap Album. Cardi has shown that being your authentic self can help you grow your audience, leading to broken records and an army of supporters who love her music, perspective, and drive.
Kalima DeSuze is a Brooklyn born and bred entrepreneur. She is the proud owner of Cafe Con Libros, which translates to coffee with books. It is a feminist bookstore, coffee shop, and event space. Apart from selling books by and about diverse women, she also frequently discusses the gentrification of Crown Heights, where Cafe Con Libros is located, and ways that neighborhoods can remain inclusive when new white, affluent residents move in.
Janel Martinez is the mastermind and entrepreneur behind the blog Ain’t I Latina. The site has been featured in publications from the New York Times to NBC and celebrated for Martinez’s witty writing, insightful nuance, and much-needed stories of being Afro-Latina. Martinez is a prolific writer whose work on intersectionality and Latinidad has also appeared in numerous publications.
Miss Rizos, whose real name is Carolina Contreras, is the owner of an all-natural hair salon in the Dominican Republic, called Miss Rizos Salon. Just as Black communities in the U.S. are pushing back on discrimination of Black hairstyles and racist beliefs that curly hair and afros are “unprofessional” Miss Rizos is using her salon to inspire women to embrace their curly and kinky hair in a world where Eurocentric beauty standards reign supreme. She also posts online hair tutorials for people who can’t make it to her salon.
Afro-Latina history is Latinx history. Afro-Latina history is Black history. We must give Afro-Latinas and their contributions the love, respect, and platforms that they’ve always deserved.