In honor of Juneteenth—Sunday’s holiday commemorating Texas slaves being the last to find out that they’d been emancipated, thus sparking an annual holiday that celebrates African American heritage—we thought we’d add some Latino flavor to the mix. Here are just a few Afro-Latinos whose lives and accomplishments are worth celebrating.
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The little Cuban girl with the big voice who won a cake in a radio contest grew up to be the undisputed Queen of Salsa. Through her wonderfully brash voice and indomitable spirit, she brought salsa to a worldwide audience. No wonder thousands attended her public funerals in several cities.
If Celia was salsa’s biggest star, the Dominican Pacheco was the one who helped place her firmly in the sky. One of the most influential figures in salsa, as the CEO and creative director of Fania Records, he furthered the careers of many a salsa legend. He also founded Fania All-Stars, a gathering of the label’s biggest stars, including Ruben Blades, Hector Lavoe, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente and of course, Celia.
A member of a royal family of Gabon, Yanga was a slave who led a rebellion against the Spanish in Veracruz province, Mexico. He and his followers formed a small colony and kept the Spanish at bay for 30 years, until a peace treaty was made with the Spanish. The colony turned into a town, now called Yanga.
Clemente had both outsize talent and a beautiful soul. The Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder was the first Latino elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, having passed the 3,000-hit mark and won 12 Golden Gloves, among other accolades. But he was also a tireless humanitarian who died in a plane crash on his way to deliver aid to Nicaraguan earthquake victims in 1972.
One of the leading generals in the Mexican War of Independence was partially descended from slaves, something that his political enemies used against him. His bravery in the fight against Spain propelled him to become the new country’s second president before being deposed and executed. The biggest accomplishment of his presidency: abolishing slavery in 1829.
The top scorer in soccer history and the only player ever to have been on three World Cup winning teams, Pele, born Edison Arrantes do Nascimiento, became a Brazilian national hero and an inspiration for millions—and not just because of his prowess on the field. Pele has also spoken out about social inequality in his country.
The black-Chinese painter’s oeuvre, which was hailed by Picasso and brought Lam worldwide fame, was largely dedicated to exploring his African ancestry and bringing Afro-Cuban culture to the forefront.
Pedro Albizu Campos
The Harvard grad and gifted orator nicknamed El Maestro was also a firebrand Puerto Rican nationalist and leader of the island’s independence movement. He led everything from strikes to revolts against the U.S. government, leading to his arrests for sedition, conspiracy against the government. He died in prison in 1965, after his health deteriorated, partly because of radiation experiments conducted on him.
The Boricua thespian was a rarity: A black actor in early Hollywood who refused to play clownish or stereotyped characters. Instead, the stage and film actor fought for dramatic roles that earned him a Golden Globe nomination and spanned 40 years and 23 films.