Princess Nokia & Oshun Explain the Importance of the Afro-Latino Festival

RedensDesrosiers

I closed the door to my car and began walking in the direction of the Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza, where the 2016 Afro-Latino Festival was taking place. Blocks away, I can already feel the celebration in the air. Brooklyn has an aroma of empandas accompanied by the sounds of African beats, creating its own atmosphere – one with purpose and love. I walk faster and see a group of women walking in the same direction I am dressed in white, yellow and blue. “Mis Orishas,” I think to myself. I’m already proud and I haven’t yet made it to the festival. I walk a little faster. Music fills the streets and brings Bed-Stuy alive with Garifuna drums guiding its heartbeat. I feel the spirit of my ancestors dancing next to me as I walk. Boom, boom, bada-boom. I finally enter the festival. Instantly, I’m met with a sea of laughter, dancing and food – a lot of food. It felt as if I was at a huge family party filled with my long lost brothers and sisters. I was truly where I needed to be.

MORE: Presenting the Dope Ladies Behind the Afro-Latino Festival

This celebration of Afro-Latinidad was started by Mai-elka Prado and Amilcar Priestley, an Afro-Panamanian couple based in New York City. In the four years since its inception, the Afro-Latino Festival has grown to include intellectually engaging panels, documentary screenings, keynote speakers, flavorful music and food. The premise of this festival is not only to remember and celebrate but also to serve as a call to action to stand in solidarity against oppression, erasure of culture and racism. African culture and influence in Latin America isn't represented nearly enough in history books, and this event is helping to create a sacred space of awareness and healing. Community, especially during these troubling times, is important for self-perseverance. A place to be enlightened, to be loved and be heard is essential for growth.

(Photo Credit: Jasmine Matos and Mario Carrion)

Afro-Latino Festival performers Princess Nokia and Oshun, a musical duo, understand this well. The three badass women, who stand for feminism, empowerment and spirituality, talked to Latina about AfroLatinidad, the problem with All Lives Matter, activism and more.

Why do you think it’s important for people to come to spaces like the Afro-Latino Festival?

Princess Nokia: “I think it’s important for people to identify as Afro-Latino and to come to spaces like this … to demolish the racism and segregation that still exists in modern Afro-Latino and Caribbean countries, you know? It’s almost illegal to be Black in D.R. because you’ll be considered Haitian, and, even if you are Haitian, it’s demonized. Spaces like this address that.  They address, “Well why does my hair” look different from other folks?” or “why does my skin look darker than other folks? or “why are my people different from other folks?” And I think once we start reclaiming these special things about our Afro-Latino culture, the things that make up our differences, it gives us a light to open up to ourselves, culturally.”

Why is #AllLivesMatter a problematic and quite frankly unnecessary hashtag?

Princess Nokia: We know that all lives matter. We’re aware that all lives matter – and they do. But in this pressing time, in this genocide, Black lives matter the most. And if people have a problem with it, you just aren’t seeing the reality of outside. And to walk next to a group of activist sand say “all lives matter is spitting in Black and brown faces saying, “What about me?” To say “all lives matter” is to negate that the Black genocide ever happened.

(Photo Credit: Mario Carrion, Jasmine Matos & AilynRobles)

Many people believe that being Latino and being Black is a mutually exclusive experience, when we know that's not the case. Even though you don't identify as being Latinas, why do you think it's important to support and perform at the Afro-Latino Festival? 

Oshun: Because this is still our family, you know? We are all children of the diaspora. We are all descendants of the same ancestors, descendants of the same place, descendants of the same earth. The only thing that really separates us is that we had different oppressors. We were forced to learn different languages. Our tongues are different, but, at the core, our souls are the same.

In these troubling times, what advice would you give our young brothers and sisters who are exploring activism? 

Oshun: To start the activism within yourself. A lot of things are going on in the world externally, but it all starts with your internal revolution. It starts with your internal change, being your best self and figuring out who your best self is. Being honest and free and peaceful with who you are because as an activist you are an individual taking part of a collective movement. You can’t really be part of the collective if you are not your full self.

PLUS: 10 Afro-Latina Anthems You Need to Hear

This year’s Afro-Latino Festival can be summed up in four words: affirm, empower, educate and celebrate. For more information on the festival, visit their website