These Chi-town hermanas are serious trailblazers, with a work ethic that’s hard to match. Not only did they launch BoriquaChicks.com, a lifestyle blog that highlights afro-Latino identity, but the two sisters have accomplished careers in a myriad of sectors. Raquel was a teacher for many years before recently accomplishing another goal – becoming a restaurant owner: Maracas Restaurant is a casual restaurant located in Chicago’s Bronzeville community that serves up Puerto Rican cuisine and Caribbean fare. Rebecca is a brand strategist with over 10 years experience in public relations, integrated marketing and advertising, and is currently working on her thesis research project for DePaul University’s M.A. program in Multicultural Communication.
We caught up with the sisters, who grew up on the south side of Chicago, to talk about their site, their new ventures and just what it means to be representing afro-Latinas.
Describe how you started your site — what inspired you to do it?
Raquel: Since childhood Rebecca and I were obsessed with Latinos and Latinas who looked like us or who had visible African features. Nonetheless, the Spanish-language television and magazines that our mom and family in Puerto Rico watched and read didn’t necessarily include people who looked like us. If it did, it was not a positive portrayal or there wasn’t discussion about the tie to Africa.
Originally, when I started the blog I was posting the latest in urban entertainment news. Over time, what began as celebrity gossip with a Latino and often Afro-Latino focus, evolved into a platform where we spoke about both entertainment and lifestyle topics from an Afro-Latino perspective. Our audience began to grow with people who identified as Black Latinos but really had no place in the media landscape that truly acknowledged or celebrated their presence in the way that we were beginning to do.
What's the experience been like? What have been your most challenging experiences?
Raquel: The world of blogging is very serious, especially in Chicago. We never imagined that something that started as fun would develop into a valuable and profitable platform. We are constantly pushing ourselves to stay true to our brand and blog with excellence.
One of our most interesting experiences was when Rebecca and I set up a meeting with a Latino advertising agency. Our goal was to speak to them about potential advertising partnerships in the near future. During our meeting, our host, a seasoned multicultural marketer, was nice but not that familiar with our brand or blogging in general. While walking her through our media kit, she interrupted us several times to clarify if we were indeed Latina. It was weird because it was as if she didn’t believe us. Moreover, what made it even more a slap in the face was that although she was darker than me, it seemed like she had on huge blinders to the reality that Latinos and Latinas come in all shades. In that frustrating moment we were reminded that our voice…our blog… is very important. I later fueled my anger into a post about what you shouldn’t say to Afro-Latinos, which sparked a lot of conversation with our audience and became one of our more popular posts.
Why did you think your site was important to start? What was your experience with telling people what you were doing at first?
Rebecca: Our site was important to start because not enough people were having conversations about Afro-Latino identity or what it means for Latinos to have ties to Africa.
There was very little media that celebrated or discussed Afro-Latino identity when we first started. Things have changed. Over the last four years, there has been an increase of media channels dedicated to or who have added to the discussion of Afro-Latinos through various blogs, special magazine editorial, documentaries, social media, and online videos.
We are proud that our blog played an influential role in this shift to now seeing more representations of Afro-Latinas in contemporary media platforms. Ultimately, we hope that we create a space for Afro-Latinos (especially younger people) to know that they are not alone, but there are other Afro-Latinos in the world. We hope these conversations inspire them to be proud and not ashamed of who they are and it provides language that they can use when tough conversations with ignorant people happen, about being a Black Latino.
What's been the most exciting part of running your site?
Rebecca: The most exciting part of running BoriquaChicks.com is honestly the feedback we receive from readers. So many people thank us for having these conversations and highlighting Latinas who look like them. It’s amazing to have people around the world, from youth to esteemed scholars, encourage us and support our brand. It’s kind of surreal to know that our blog has made an impression on them.
Describe your biggest or most fulfilling achievement?
Raquel: Our most fulfilling achievement has been the recognition we have received and the opportunity to tell our story—specifically media interviews that we have participated in such as our current interview with Latina magazine and a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your mission?
Rebecca: Through our entertainment and lifestyle news blog we have created a unique platform for readers to have celebrity and cultural conversations around Afro-Latinos/as. A misconception about our mission would be that we want to be divisive by celebrating the African roots of Latinos/as. However, we only want to recognize those who have been ignored for so long. In actuality, we hope to inspire pride in those who identify as Afro-Latino/as and educate those who don’t know we exist.
Read more on page 2 >>