Through talent, perseverance, and tons of irrepressible personalidad, they transformed—and continue to change—our world. ¡Bravas!
Afro Latinos have been a part of American history for centuries. And their unique and remarkable contributions in music, poetry, film, politics, sports, and the arts have enriched and continue to impact the culture at large in wonderful ways. As we celebrate Black History month, let us quitarnos el sombrero before these five extraordinary Afro Latinas that make all Latinos proud!
Game-Changer: Miriam Jiménez Román
A professor and a writer who taught courses on race, ethnicity, and gender at Hunter College, Binghamton, Brown, Columbia and New York universities, Jiménez Román, who passed away in 2020, was listed by Latina Magazine as one of “6 Afro-Latinas Who Are Changing the World!” in recognition of her for work to expand Afro Latino history and culture.
As the executive director of the Afro-Latin@ Forum, an organization that advocates for the visibility of Latino Afro-descendants in the United States, this tireless luchadora worked towards social justice, gathering Afro Latino stories that capture the beauty and complexity of Black and Latino identities. In her own unique way, this Black Boricua helped to pave the way for Afro Latinos everywhere.
Musician: Celia Cruz
Popularly known as la “Reina de la Salsa” or the “Queen of Latin Music,” the always colorfully dressed and visually arresting diva started her career as a musician in Cuba in the 1950s. In the 1960s, running from Castro’s Communist dictatorship, she fled to Mexico and later the United States, releasing songs that brought many different Afro Cuban music styles—from mambo to son and guaracha to guaguancó—into the mainstream. But it was her song “La negra tiene tumbao” (2001), that allowed the Black Latina identity to be associated with pride, power, beauty, and celebration. For this reason, Celia, as her fans simply knew her, remains a household name even after her death in 2003. As she would surely say, ¡azúca!
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
The renowned poet and author deftly and sensitively weaves her own experiences as a Black Latina into her work. When Acevedo noticed the lack of diversity in children’s books—the absence of people who looked like her and the impact representation has on young minds—she saw it as an opportunity to poner su granito de arena with books like “With the Fire on High,” “Clap When You Land,” and “The Poet X,” a New York Times bestseller, and a Carnegie Medal and National Book Award winner. Acevedo has won multiple awards, including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Prize for Best Children’s Fiction of 2018. She continues to inspire and instill Afro Latino pride in children (and their parents!) everywhere.
Journalist: Sandra Guzmán
As she did with the series of intimate stories from survivors of Hurricane María that devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Guzmán, an independent journalist born in Puerto Rico and raised in New Jersey, has helped raise the voices of marginalized people and communities. The author, documentary filmmaker, and Emmy Award winner is also one of the producers of the documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” about the renowned African American writer and Nobel Prize winner, which was released in 2019.
Most notably, the Boricua mujer de letras is the author of the nonfiction tome, “The New Latina’s Bible: The Modern Latina’s Guide to Love, Family, Spirituality, and La Vida,” a feminist book that is considered essential for two generations of Latina women.
Trailblazer: MJ Rodríguez
Recognized for her role as Blanca Rodríguez-Evangelista in the Netflix series “Pose,” she has the distinction of being the first trans Afro Latina singer and actress. In 2018 she received the Hispanic Heritage Award: Special Trailblazer Award. Born in Newark, New Jersey to an African American mother and an African American and Puerto Rican father, Rodríguez said she “prayed to become female” beginning at age 7. Cut to the fall of 2019, when Rodríguez played Audrey, the leading lady in Pasadena Playhouse’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” becoming the first transgender woman of color to play the role in a major production. At the time, she said, “I’m simply an actress. I think any woman should be considered for this role. [My casting] shouldn’t be something that’s trending—it should be normal.” And through sheer force of personality, she did just that.