In honor of Black History Month, we decided to tackle a subject that comes up again and again in our community; the issue of racism. It has long caused controversy among Latinos, and it’s important to illuminate what it really means to be Afro-Latina. We will shine a spotlight on some beautiful Afro-Latinas in the process.
Wondering what the term "Afro-Latina" means? Miriam Muley, an Afro-Puerto Rican and CEO of The 85% Niche, says being Afro-Latina is, "Not just defined by skin color, because the Afro-Latino experience is such a mixture of different ethnicities. I see being an Afro-Latina as someone whose roots are primarily of African descendant." On the question of racism Muley adds, "There’s an undercurrent of racism, there’s no question about that. There is definitely a ranking that occurs in our community based on skin tone, as well as our hair type and our facial features."
Kafayat Aromashodu, of Nigerian and Honduran descent, also highlights the difficulty of finding acceptance, "People don't really know how to act. Around fellow Latinos, you're seen as the morenita. Around Blacks, you are seen as 'The one who speaks Spanish'. I am raising my children with the understanding of both of our rich cultures. Latin-America and Africa are not different, they go hand in hand."
We've noticed, in our efforts to make the magazine and website as diverse and representative of the whole Latina experience as possible, how truly difficult it is to find prominent Afro-Latina actresses and models to grace our covers and fashion shoots. In that spirit, we gathered a group of notable Afro-Latinas who have made inspiring contributions to our community.
Be sure to check it out below and let us know: What do you think about racism in our community? Have you ever been discriminated against because of your facial features, skin tone or hair type?
by Mariela Rosario
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Celia Cruz (October 21, 1925 – July 16, 2003)
This Havana born singer and entertainer also known as "La guarachera de Cuba" is the undisputed Queen of Salsa. Hands down one of the most iconic Latina performers ever, in 1987 she received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. ¡Azucar!
Gina Torres (born April 25, 1969)
This actress is known for her roles in films and TV shows such as The Matrix, Alias and 24. The NYC born Cubana married actor Laurence Fishburne in 2002 and they have one daughter named Delilah together. She can currently be seen in the critically acclaimed Sundance darling Don't Let Me Drown.
Zoë Saldaña (born June 19, 1978)
This half-Rican, half-Dominican stunner burst onto the silver screen in 2000's Center Stage. Since then she's acted in notable films like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and The Terminal. She will appear next as Uhura in the hotly anticipated Star Trek prequel.
Rosario Dawson (born May 9, 1979)
This multi-culti actress was first discovered by by Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, who cast her in a role in their controversial 1995 film Kids. She hasn't looked back since then, starring in a string of hit films and starting her own non-profit Voto Latino which has helped register thousands over the last 2 years.
Daphne Rubin-Vega (born November 18, 1969)
Daphne starred as the original Mimi in the ground breaking musical Rent. She also starred in The House of Bernarda Alba at the Lincoln Center and Les Misérables on Broadway. She has two Tony Award nominations to her credit; one for her role in Rent and the other for her performance as Conchita in Anna in the Tropics.
Sylvia Del Villard (February 28, 1928-February 28, 1990)
This dancer, choreographer and Afro-Puerto Rican activist was born in Santurce, PR. She studied vocals and dance at the Metropolitan Opera and eventually founded El Coqui Theater, recognized by the Panamerican Association of the New World Festival as the most important authority of Black Puerto Rican culture.
Rosie Perez (born September 6, 1964)
Academy Award nominated actress and activist Rosie Perez may be notorious for her voice, but her actions speak louder than words. Since starring as Tina in Spike Lee's breakthrough film, Do the Right Thing, Rosie has campaigned tirelessly on issues such as HIV/AIDS awareness, Puerto Rican rights and education.
Gwendolyn Ifill (born September 29, 1955)
This Panameña is one of the preeminent journalists in America today. She moderated both the 2004 and 2008 Vice Presidential debates and is the author of the recently released book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.
Christina Milian (born September 26, 1981)
This Cubana actress and singer is about to drop her 4th studio album entitled Dream in Color. She has collaborated with everyone from J. Lo to Hillary Duff over her career and the triple threat shows no signs of slowing down. Catch her next costarring alongside Matthew McConaughey in The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
Lauren Velez (born November 2, 1964)
This Puerto Rican actress hit it big when she landed the role of Nina Moreno in New York Undercover. But it wasn't all luck, Velez worked hard, receiving a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey Dance school when she graduated from high school and studying at the famous Actor's Studio in New York. You can watch her now on the hit Showtime series Dexter.
Tatyana Ali (born January 24, 1979)
This Fresh Prince of Bel Air cutie hit it big on the Billboard charts with her musical debut Kiss The Sky. Ali, of Panamanian and Trinidadian descent, recently lent her vocals to will.i.am's song, “Yes We Can” recorded in support of President Barack Obama's election campaign. She can be seen in a recurring role on the soap opera The Young & the Restless.
Christina Norman (born in 1960 in New York City)
Norman went from freelance production manager at MTV to President of the network, becoming one of the highest-ranking women of color in the television industry in the process. Oprah recently tapped the boricua to be the new CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Kelis (born August 21, 1979)
Kelis is a natural born pop star who first burst onto the music scene with her man bashing single "Caught Out There." Since her debut, she has had nine top forty singles. She is currently expecting her first child with rapper husband Nas and she is said to be working on a new album with Cee-Lo Green.
La La Vasquez (born in June 25, 1979)
La La is best known for her MTV VJ'ing skills, but she got her big break while still a student at Redan High School on a radio show alongside Ludacris. She wass engaged to Denver Nuggets basketball star Carmelo Anthony in 2004 and gave birth to their first son, Kiyan Anthony, in 2007.
Sessilee Lopez (born January 4, 1989)
This Dominican and Portuguese beauty is our latest cover girl. She has already been stalking the runways for years (even though she's only 20 years old) and was recently granted the good fortune of becoming superstar photographer Steven Meisel's muse, which bodes very well for her future in fashion.
Arlenis Sosa Peña (born 1989 in Montecristi, Dominican Republic)
Peña was a contestant in the 2006 'Elite Model Look' contest of the Dominican Republic, but it was Italian Vogue's Black issue that blew her up. This Dominican beauty has taken the fashion world by storm, going from totally unknown to walking the runways for Oscar de la Renta and Christian Dior in a few short months.
Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (May 27, 1971 – April 25, 2002)
One-third of the mega-hit girl group TLC, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes died much too young at the age of 30 when her car swerved off the road in Honduras. She was in the process of setting up an educational center for Honduran children. Her posthumous album, Eye Legacy was just released January 27th, 2009.
Dania Ramirez (born November 8, 1979)
Now starring in the hit TV show Heroes as the mysterious Maya, this Dominicana only started acting after graduating from Montclair State University a volleyball star. She also landed roles as AJ Soprano's girlfriend Blanca on the critically acclaimed HBO show The Sopranos and as Callisto in X-Men: The Last Stand.