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Six Afro-Latinas Who Paved The Way For Younger Generations

posted February 27, 2019 | in Soy Latina by Rita J. Olivares Cervantes

As Black History Month comes to a close, we want to highlight innovating Afro-Latinas that took charge of their fields in their own unique ways from giving back to their communities to breaking through barriers and expectations. Their drive and inclination to take on challenges in their fields with zest and zeal can be inspiring to many across the United States and Latin America whether it is through their work as women in research or breaking barriers in the arts industry. Here are six Afro-Latinas who have paved the way for younger generations of women of color and have changed the world in the process.


Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill. Sourced by the Baltimore Sun.

A daughter of immigrants from Panama and Barbados who hails from the Jamaica neighborhood in Queens, New York, the late Gwen Ifill set out to be a trailblazer for other Afro-Latinas developing a passion for journalism at age 9 and pursuing it later on. Ifill did not let the notes filled with racial slurs and ignorance of her other colleagues at the start of her career impede her from prospering. It rather fueled her more to not let these comments get the best of her.

She became one of the first Black women to moderate a vice-presidential debate as well as hold a nationally-televised U.S. public affairs program with Washington Week in Review per The Washington Post. Ifill engaged with her audience through her warm and welcoming nature but was still firm in the information she delivered. These traits added to her success and credibility.

Tessa Thompson

Tessa Thompson’s Instagram post of her Essence cover.

Thor: Ragnarok would not have been the same had it not been for the fierce Valkyrie heroine played beautifully by none other than Tessa Thompson. The comic books originally called for the role to be played by a white woman, but this Afro-Latina, using the disapproval of those outraged over it as encouragement, elevated the role into a fearless Norse warrior just as it was intended from the comics and Old Norse mythology.

The fashion magazine, Porter, highlights Thompson as an outspoken supporter of the #MeToo movement and makes mention of her ambition to seek out roles that let her live up to her brazen persona.

Wendy de la Rosa

Do you often hear yourself crying out: “¡¿A donde se me va mi dinero?!” Our cries have been heard by Wendy de la Rosa, a young pioneering Afro-Latina in financial tech, who co-founded Common Cents. The non-profit applied research lab helps low-to-moderate income earners better their financial wellbeing.

Immigrating from the Dominican Republic and finishing her homework through the light of the bathroom, De La Rosa gave an interview to Forbes Magazine about her company while finishing her PhD in consumer behavior at Stanford. De La Rosa’s intellectualism and determinism have empowered her to give back to the community she came from and help keep track of ese dinerito that escapes us so we may fix our own spending behaviors and become smart consumers.

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz – The Queen of Salsa

Celia Cruz website.

Salsa music is a staple to the culture and vivacity of Afro-Latinidad and Celia Cruz’s vibrant voice that invokes the dancer within us was imperative to the rise of its popularity. From a young age, Cruz pursued her heart’s desire to sing, despite her dad wanting her to become a teacher.

“Hija de una isla rica,” Cruz sings in her song Azucar Negra, which is a reminder of the island Fidel Castro forbade her and the Salsa group, La Sonora Matancera, she was a part of from ever returning home. This was no matter to Cruz as her love for her music allowed her to have a successful 60-year career.

They don’t call her “The Queen of Salsa” or “The Queen of Latin Music” for nothing as her pride and devotion for her native Cuba are felt through her music that earned her 8 Grammy nominations of which she won 4, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Though she has been gone now for 14 years and had a mini-series dedicated to her life and her website that preserves her legacy, Cruz’s music invokes us to promote our passion through our own media with just a bit of ¡Azucar!

Amara La Negra

Amara La Negra’s recent Instagram post.

To have love for one self, is to be strong and assured in your person and that is exactly what Diana de los Santos, known as Amara La Negra, shows through her up-and-coming career in the music industry according to her interview with NPR.

Facing racism and colorism from a young age, La Negra decided to embrace her natural beauty and physique which led to her choosing her artist name and create hits such as “Se Que Soy.” She has created a platform through her garnered fame from the show Love & Hip-Hop: Miami, in which she uses it to speak on the issues she faced as a child that not only plague white society but are also internalized in the Latino community. La Negra hopes to one day be an influencer like Celia Cruz to other Afro-Latinas.

Miriam Jimenez Roman

Picture of Miriam Jimenez Roman on Instagram from 2014.

As a writer and professor, Miriam Jimenez Roman has made it her mission to educate the population on Afro-Latinidad and its many intersectionalities. She talks about this further in an interview with Los AfroLatinos forum.

She published her book, “The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States”, which talks about how in the early 2000s, the United States dangerously entered into this mindset that race was no longer a topic of discussion. Roman saw that there was a need to speak on this “phenomena” because in separating Latinos and African Americans in the U.S. census is a complete erasure of the experiences lived by those who identify as both. Roman opens up and leads the conversation over Afro-Latinidad and is making it known through her writing and work as a professor.

Despite the setbacks these Afro-Latinas faced, we celebrate this Black History Month by spotlighting their work and as role models who do not let oppression and racism stop them from becoming triumphant women in their respective fields.

Born and raised in Laredo, Texas, University of Texas senior Rita J. Olivares Cervantes will be receiving her B.A. in English Literature and Language as well as Mexican American and Latina/o Studies this May. Her passion and pride for her Mexican roots are what continuously guide her as she writes for the preservation of our antepasados. She hopes to one day become a published author and help bring out the beauty of her culture and people.

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