20 Afro-Latinx Poets Discuss the Duality of Their Identities

Unlike the one-dimensional portrayal of Latinas in the media, these Afro-Latina poets expose and confront the multi-faceted reality of their identity

Elizabeth Acevedo

Photo: Instagram/acevedowrites

Unlike the one-dimensional portrayal of Latinas in the media, these Afro-Latina poets expose and confront the multi-faceted reality of their identity. From their passions to their plights, their works encompass the truth of their experiences as women with both African and Latin roots living in the U.S. When it comes to Latinidad it’s no secret that anti-Blackness and colorism are prevalent but erasure is all to common throughout LATAM. 

To combat this and to amplify and empower Afro-Latinxs both in LATAM and in the U.S. artists use their work. Poetry has always been a powerful tool and the following roundup of Afro-Latina poets showcases the extent of that power as they explore the complexities and beauty of their identity. The 20 women on this list vary in age and style but they’re united in their gift for putting together words that paint a picture of their intersectionalities.  

Elizabeth Acevedo

She garnered praise and won the National Book Award for her debut novel The Poet X and now Dominican writer Elizabeth Acevedo is set to continue that success with Clap When You Land and With the Fire on High. The National Poetry Slam champion is known for uplifting Afro Latinx with poems like “Afro-Latina” and “Hair” as well as addressing violence against women.  The passionate delivery of her powerful verses has helped nurture a large following of her works with more than 20k followers on Instagram.

Lines from “Afro-Latina”:

Our bodies have been bridges./We are the sons and daughters,/el destino de mi gente,/black/
brown/beautiful./Viviremos para siempre/Afro-Latinos hasta la muerte.

Rio Cortez

Rio Cortez was born and raised in Salt Lake City and now lives in Harlem working at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Some of the topics she’s discussed in her poetry include slavery (“Visiting Whitney Plantation”), spirituality (“UFO, For Instance”) and the aftermath of the Hurricane in Cuba (“Rot”). She was selected by Ross Gay as the inaugural winner of the Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize for I Have Learned to Define a Field as a Space Between Mountains.

Lines from “Self Portrait in a Tanning Bed“: 

It’s February & I am the only black/girl at Future Tan Tanning/Salon I laugh when I enter/my private room & see an African/mask above the clothes racks I am/getting tired of irony naked/climbing onto the plexiglass/

Ariana Brown

Black Mexican American poet Ariana Brown is known as a “part-time curandera” for the healing power of her words as much as her knowledge of holistic medicine. Her passionate poetry is known for dissecting the experience of being a Black Mexican as well as mental health, gender, and racism with an undercurrent of empowerment. Her chapbook Messy Girl explored heartbreak and depression while her debut chapbook three-headed serpent looked at Mexican folk healing.

Lines from “Invocation“:

you curse each raindrop undoing your labor with its disrespectful weight; but

unlike anything else in the world, when smothered in water,

submerged in a substance thick enough to kill you, nearly

drowned and gasping — you rise, and refusing invisibility,

grow to the size all benevolent gods are.

Raina J. Leon

Raina J. León has released three poetry collections, including her latest Profeta Without Refuge as well as Sombra:Dis(locate) published in 2016. She’s the founding editor of The Acentos Review, an online quarterly international journal devoted to uplifting Latinx art.  Her works include a response to being an Afro-Latina during the Trump age and her multifaceted heritage as a Black, Puerto Rican American.  She is an associate professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Lines from “Profeta Without Refuge”:

i told her/ soulless breeds soulless /i told her/ life requires haunting       

Jennifer Maritza McCauley

https://twitter.com/StalkingHorsePr/status/884489657802608642

Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a writer and poet of African-American and Puerto Rican descent. She released her book Scar On/Scar Off October 2017 featuring poetry and prose that explores dualities of mestiza consciousness by dissecting identity, womanhood, and racism. She teaches, researches, and writes at the University of Missouri, where she is completing her Ph.D. in creative writing as a Gus T. Ridgel Fellow.

Lines from “When Trying to Return Home”:

The brown girl says eres Latina at least, and I say at least/in English. I look down at my skin, which is black, but/smells blue by the shores of Biscayne. She thinks my skin could/speak Spanish, a los menos. I want to tell the brown girl I was not born/by ocean rims or white-scuffed waves. I was not born/beside brown girls who speak Miami’s itchy Spanish.

Yesenia Montilla

Harlem Poet Yesenia Montilla is the daughter of immigrants of Afro-Caribbean descent. She released her first collection The Pink Box in 2016 tackling topics including family, race, culture, tradition, love, and pop culture among a multitude of others. She’s known for her blunt honesty and humor but also her passion and vulnerability, specifically when discussing the complexities of being a woman.

Lines from “Ode to a Dominican Breakfast“:

I danced merengue barefoot on my stoop. I kissed the/Dominican flag, once for each time I remembered a Taino word/yuca, batata, tanama, ocama, yautia, cacique, juracan,/every bite on the plate, every morsel like a bachata tune

Nicole Sealey

St. Thomas born and Florida-raised, Nicole Sealey received acclaim for her books Ordinary Beast and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named. She was named a 2019-2020 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, and is the executive director at Cave Canem Foundation, visiting a professor at Boston University and the 2018-2019 Doris Lippman Visiting Poet at The City College of New York. Her poems examine love, gender, race, and the corporal.

Lines from “Candebara with Heads”:

A hundred years from now, October 9, 2116,/8:18 p.m., when all but the lucky are good/and dead, may someone happen upon the question/in question. May that lucky someone be black/and so far removed from the verb lynch that she be/dumbfounded by its meaning. May she then/call up Hirschhorn’s Candelabra with Heads/May her imagination, not her memory, run wild./

Aracelis Girmay

Aracelis Girmay is Eritrean, African-American, and Puerto Rican and was born and raised in Santa Ana, California. She received acclaim for her debut collection Teeth released in 2007 and in 2011, she published Kingdom Animalia,  named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. But it was her latest collection The Black Maria released in 2016 that won critical acclaim and a spot on several best books lists. The concept of the book revolves around the misidentification in the context of racism and investigating the histories of African diasporas. At its core, it’s meant to recognize the lives of Eritrean refugees who have been made invisible by years of immigration crisis and a stateless existence. She teaches and lives in New York City.

Lines from “The Black Maria”:

“Maybe he will be the boy who studies stars. / Maybe he will be (say it) / the boy on the coroner’s table / splayed & spangled / by an officer’s lead as if he, too, weren’t made/ of a trillion glorious cells & sentences. Trying to last.”

Maria Fernanda Chamorro

Black Ecuadorian Maria Fernanda Chamorro is the of founder of Candela Writers Workshops, a monthly writing workshop open to poets who self-identify as  African and/or as Black with a connection to Latin American and/or U.S. Latinx culture. She has shared her poems several fundraisers for Puerto Rico such as#PoetsForPuertoRico and The Other Side of Paradise.

Lines from “Guayaquil, 1996”:

The background checks conducted, and the photographs/Flipped through. The nurses, calling me by my middle name/Because every orphan girl was named María, pulled the Dress/Over my head and I watched the bow disappear from my hair/Like a boat leaving one sea for the next./

Aja Monet

Caribbean American poet, performer, and educator Aja Monet is internationally acclaimed for her blend of imagery with a powerful voice. In 2018 she released her first full collection entitled My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. She was awarded the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam at the age of 19 becoming the youngest recipient. She currently lives in Little Haiti, Miami where she is the co-founder of Smoke Signals Studio, a collective dedicated to music, art, culture, and community organizing. She also facilitates “Voices: Poetry for the People,” a workshop for community organizers and leaders at the grassroots level.

Lines from “My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter”:

how we see ourselves/is determined by five western countries/five of which determine/
value by how well they kill/others./and we out here screaming/black lives/
matter…/i am starting to believe/that this is all we value/is each other’s death/more than life/

Venessa Marco

Celebrating all the beauty of blackness, Puerto Rican/Cuban poet Venessa Marco is known for her honest and raw poem entitled “Off White.”  In this poem, she addresses the experience of being a lighter-skinned Black woman and how other’s comments affected her self esteem. She was the third place National Slam Champion in 2013 and a finalist in the 2014 Women of the World Poetry Championship. She lives and studies in NYC.

Lines from “Off White”:
What a privilege, to be a child of diaspora/Marginalized like the rest of them but too light to be thought of marginalized like the rest of them/Go ahead baby, play that light skinned violin/Cry them light skinned privileged tears/Death ain’t coming for you

Mayda del Valle

The Chicago native and self-proclaimed bruja got her start at the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe in New York City where in 2001 she became the Grand Slam Champion. She then went on to win the 2001 National Poetry Slam Individual title, becoming the youngest and first Latina poet to do so. She was a contributing writer and original cast member of the Tony Award-winning Def Poetry Jam on Broadway. Since 2011 she’s has been a teaching artist with the poetry-based non-profit youth organization Street Poets, facilitating workshops around the LA area.  In 2018 she released a collection of poetry entitled A South Side Girl’s Guide to Love & Sex

Lines from “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”:

I will sleep on dry pillows now in a bed big enough to love myself in/I will awake these coming mornings with my eyes dry and shining/full of the knowledge I am priceless and worth nothing but honesty/I will remove the scarlet letter from my chest and hold the hand of the little girl I used to be.

Jasminne Mendez

Jaminne Mendez is an award-winning author, performance poet, and educator who is of Dominican descent. A part of her identity as “chronically and invisibly ill and partially disabled” plays a key role in her writing evident in her second book Night-Blooming Jasmin(n)e: Personal Essays and Poetry where she examines grief as a result of her physical struggles.  Her first multi-genre memoir Island of Dreams was awarded Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book by the International Latino Book Awards in 2015.  She is the Co-Founder and Program Director of Tintero Projects.

Lines from “Frijochuelas”:

Because their Abuelita Rosario will cook arroz con/habichuelas and call it kindness. And their Mexican Grandpa Mendez/will stuff frijoles in a tortilla and call it love. While their/father and I will invent a new, decolonized, virgin language,/put it in a pot, name them “frijo-chuelas,”/and call it home./

Natasha Carrizosa

Natasha Carrizosa was raised by an African-American mother and a Mexican father and the influence of both cultures are reflected in her writing. In 2013 she received the National Poetry Award for multicultural poet of the year. Her works include “heavy light”, “mejiafricana”, and “Of Fire and Rain” (co-authored with Joaquin Zihuatanejo.) In 2009 she developed Natty Roots & Rhyme, a poetry open mics open to poets around the world.

Lines from “ABC ME”:

Even when I was starving I was eating/Inhaling words like a kid with a lunch cart/ like this is a meal I might miss/like I better eat up cause life be hard/like a kid sucks up alphabet soup/i sucked up a/ brown girl with good hair and pretty skin I didn’t know how to live in./

Tatiana F. Ramirez

Born in Puerto Rico to a military family and raised in the U.S., Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez takes inspirations from her layered identity when developing her poetic work. As an Afroboricua who equally enjoys rap and salsa, collard greens and pernil, she explores the duality of her roots and the confusion of straddling both worlds. Her work has been featured in several anthologies and she’s currently working on her first collection of poetry “Coconut Curls y Café con Leche”.

Lines from “Paradise”:

She is paradise,/To us./Our home./She is paradise,/To you./Your escape./Your toy./For us,/There is no escape./Our only escape/Is to leave/Our paradise./

Paula Ramirez

Black Puertoriqueña Paula Ramirez is a Bronx-based poet who explores the intersectionalities of her identity sharing the joys and trauma of being a black Puerto Rican woman in the U.S. In 2015 she debuted her one-woman act in NYC and has since performed at various events. She currently working on a book as well as short stories.

Lines from “Slavery in Santurce”:

We watch the fires as Tio explains that slavery is not American or European but VERY Puerto Rican. “Paula” 70% of us were brought to the Caribbean so when they ask if you are black, you say yes. When they try to say you aren’t Boricua, you laugh in their face and explain that salsa mofongo and melanin are all vital parts of Ponce.

Lenelle Moïse

https://twitter.com/lenellemoise/status/926591918213140480

The multi-hyphenated award-winning Lenelle Moïse is not only a poet, she’s also a playwright, screenwriter, and creative keynote speaker who takes on complex subjects including immigration, race, queer identity, and love with vulnerability and passion. She’s an accomplished solo performer with shows including “Word Life”, an interactive coming of age story, the feminist blend of poetry and prose “Speaking Intersections”, and “Where There Are Voices”, a ritual based on the poems of her first book, Haiti Glass published in 2015. She was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and grew up in the suburbs of Boston.

Lines from “mud mothers”:

we are a living dead example/of what happens to warriors who/in lieu of fighting for white men’s countries/dare to fight/for their own lives/

Luz Argentina Chiriboga

https://twitter.com/oaddison/status/900701660544217088?s=20

Luz Argentina Chiriboga is one of Ecuador’s most prominent Afro-Latina writers. She began writing in 1968 exploring the complex duality of being an Afro-Latina. As a writer of multiple formats including novels, short stories, and poetry she’s challenged the stereotypes of women’s sexuality in a patriarchal society.

Sharee Yveliz

The daughter of a Dominican mother and an African-American father, Sharee Yveliz grew up feeling like she didn’t really belong in either world. Growing into herself and finding self-acceptance she penned “Negra Bella” about empowerment and paving your own path.

Lines from Negra Bella”:

Negra/ con tu pelo malo/ tu nariz ancha/brown skin like carbón/trying to stay out the sun/ para no ponerte más prieta/ and you kinda realize that being pretty for morena/ is actually an insult and not a compliment./

Jackie Torres

https://www.instagram.com/p/BpK_yExBVzl/

Afro-Boricua  Jackie Torres uses her works to promote healing as well as confronting the wrongs committed by society. She is the author and a co-collaborator of IN THEORY: Notes on Home, Love, Diaspora, and Failing Adulthood, dance and spoken word fusion about converting the pains of the past into the resistance. She’s also one behind production company Cracked Binding, a platform for POC storytelling and human rights education.

Lines from “Another hashtag, Another Mourning”:

Black death rattles in my bones/The world around me continues to spin in disrespect/my body a home weighted by the news of death/ribcage suffocated and swelling with the need to speak the incredulous question/didn’t you hear/ another black body was claimed by the police today/ whether they know or not it’s inconsequential/their apathy is identical

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