Here Are Some Of The Most Important Afro-Latino Figures Who Have Changed And Are Changing The World
This Black History Month, we celebrate every single Black person who has created more space for the generations behind them. From Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King Jr., the country’s effort to focus on Black contributions and civil rights history is something, but it’s not everything.
Many people in the Latino community still willfully ignore the contributions made by Afro-Latinos. Sometimes the mere emphasis on their true identity is what has paved the way for their existence to be celebrated in the Latino community. Here are some Afro-Latinos who have made waves and paved ways for other people who exist in the duality of being Black and Latino.
Cuban legend Celia Cruz is probably the most famous Afro-Latino of the world. She received the National Medal of Arts from Bill Clinton in 1994 for her contribution in spreading the sounds of salsa music to the U.S. and the world.
Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez
Méndez is the first person of African heritage to travel into space. He was born in Cuba and orphaned as an infant and went from shining shoes to traveling in Earth’s orbit. That’s something to be proud of.
Espaillat is the first formerly undocumented immigrant to ever serve in Congress. The Dominican-American now serves as the U.S. Representative for New York’s 13th Congressional District and is an unwavering champion of immigrant rights in the process.
Amara La Negra
Amara La Negra brought the topic of Afro-Latinidad to public discourse after Young Hollywood criticized her afro during a business meeting on “Love & Hip Hop: Miami.” You can tell from the Dominicana’s stage name that she’s fiercely Afro-Latina. She is forcing us to have conversations about accepting Black identity withint hte Latino community.
She’s the first trans Afro-Latina starring actress to be on a television series drama, and she’s crushing it. The Puerto Rican star has skyrocketed to fame playing Blanca Evangelista on FX’s “Pose” and her star is not coming down any time soon.
Roberto Clemente is a Puerto Rican legend. Clemente was the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and is remembered for his tireless and selfless commitment to helping the world. He died in a plane crash while taking supplies to Nicaragua following a devastating earthquake.
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg
Schomburg was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico in 1874 to a freed slave, Mary Joseph Alfonso and Carlos Schomburg, a German merchant living in Puerto Rico. When Schomburg was in elementary school, one of his teachers claimed that Black people had no history, heroes or accomplishments. He became determined to prove her wrong and went on to become a Black historian and major intellectual figure during the Harlem Renaissance. Today, The New York Public Library Harlem branch has an entire Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, made up of his own collection of slave narratives and other books.
Luciano was the founder of the Young Lords New York Branch (which was like the Puerto Rican version of the Black Panther Party). He’s also known for his poetry and his membership in the Original Last Poets.
José Celso Barbosa
Barbosa was the first Afro-Latino to earn a medical degree in the United States. After accomplishing that major feat, he went on to join the first Puerto Rican Senate and advocated for statehood.
O’Brien has become one of the top names in journalism with a slew of awards and her own show to prove it. The ACLU asked O’Brien’s parents, an Afro-Cubana and Australian, to be the couple that would test the ban on interracial marriage. Her parents had to marry in D.C. where the laws were less restrictive at the time.
Ifill was one of the first Black women to host a national public affairs program in the United States and the first to moderate a vice presidential debate. The Panamanian journalist paved the way for many others and Afro-Latino journalists today have Ifill to thank for the path she blazed.
Puerto Rican artist Princess Nokia is known for rapping her feminist agenda with no apology. She’s speaking truth to words in a way that is uniquely relatable to Afro-Latinas. She is not holding back when she stands up for herself anf her fellow Afro-Latinas.
While we mostly think of current icons, Amara La Negra and Cardi B, actress Judy Reyes has been paving the way for much longer.
“I would get really positive reactions at auditions for both African-American and Latino parts. But, I didn’t look Latino enough because of the curly hair, and the freckles, and the nose and all that stuff,” she told NBCUniverso.
Sylvia del Villard
San Juan-born Sylvia de Villard grew up around dance, but it wasn’t until she moved to NYC where she committed her life to it. She joined the ballet group Africa House and went on to create the Afro-Boricua El Coqui Theater.
Julia de Burgos
Burgos is a Puerto Rican poet and journalist who’s known for her work in the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. The celebration of her blackness has influenced many Afro-Caribbean writers that have come after her. Her lasting legacy is something to be admired.
Miriam Jiménez Román
Jiménez is one of the foremost leading thinkers on Afro-Latinos in the U.S., known for her book “The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States.” She’s helped create space for Black Puerto Ricans and Afro-Latinos like her and she’s not slowing down.
“You’re not one or the other. You’re both. And you should be proud to be both and not be embarrassed or ashamed of it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Alonso said in the NBCUniverso documentary “Black and Latino.”
Thomas paved a path for Afro-Latino voices with his memoir “Down These Mean Streets.” His life is as full as it is nuanced, with a nine-year stint in prison, feeling neglected by his father for his lighter-skinned siblings, and eventually becoming a community organizer for Afro-Latino youth in Harlem. The Cuban-Puerto Rican poet is a legend.
Breena Nuñez Peralta
Afro-Salvadorian-Guatemalan cartoonist Peralta is working to draw Afro-Latinos into existence via cartoons. She’s creating space for young Afro-Latinxs to see themselves as heroes, which makes her our hero.