It’s Black History Month, and we are celebrating all the achievements that Afro-Latinxs have made over the years. There are many, but these often get swept under the rug, not proclaimed as loudly as other Latinx moments. No mas. Like Historia Negra 365 said, “sin historia negra, no hay historia hispana” (“without black history, there isn’t Hispanic history”). Here are 20 moments of Afro-Latinx excellence.
Lola Falana Becomes the First Lady of Las Vegas
Afro-Cuban Lola Falana became a big entertainer, beginning in the 1960s. She acted on TV and Broadway (and earned a Tony nomination), had her own variety show on television (Lola!), and a starred in a Las Vegas act which paid her $100,000 a week during the 1970s. She became known as the First Lady or Queen of Las Vegas.
Celia Cruz Becomes the Queen of Salsa
Celia Cruz accomplished so much, it’s actually hard to cover it all. That is probably why she got an entire telenovela dedicated to her life! She is La Reina de la Salsa; some of her achievements include winning three Grammys (plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award) and four Latin Grammys, recording 23 gold records, and receiving the National Medal of Arts and three honorary doctorates.
Roberto Clemente Wins at Baseball and Being of Service to Others
Afro-Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente was a great baseball player. He was the first Latino and Caribbean player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, won the Gold Glove Award 12 seasons in a row, and was a World Series MVP. He also was a hero. Clemente died in a plane crash while heading to Nicaragua to provide aid to the country after an earthquake.
Amara La Negra Stands Up for Afro-Latinx Beauty
Amara La Negra was not afraid to defend her natural hair, and her Afro-Latinx beauty on national TV. On an episode of Love and Hip Hop: Miami, she shut down a music producer, who wanted her to change her image, to look “more Beyonce,” and less “Macy Gray” (referring to her afro).
Elizabeth Acevedo Wins With Poet X
Afro-Dominicana Elizabeth Acevedo wrote the Poet X, and the world thanked her for it. The young adult novel, written in prose, about an Afro-Latina youth, won the National Book Award, the Golden Kite Honor Award, and was a New York Times Best Seller.
Rafaela Lopes Silva Wins an Olympic Gold Medal
Afro-Brazilian juduko Rafaela Lopes Silva won Brazil a gold medal for judo at the 2016 Olympic Games. She also won a gold medal at the 2013 World Judo Championships.
Sammy Davis Jr. Receives the Kennedy Center Honors
Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. is a legend. The Afro-Cuban singer, actor, dancer, musician, vaudevillian, and Rat Pack member received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Emmy, a NAACP Spingarn Medal Award, a NAACP Image Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors (among other honors).
Zoe Saldana Gets a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Zoe Saldana was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in May of this year. The Afro-Dominican-Puerto Rican is the only actor ever to star in two films which grossed $2 billion dollars.
Sarunas Jackson Gets His Character Written as Afro-Latinx
Afro-Panamanian actor Sarunas Jackson made it a point to ask the writers of the show Insecure to make his character, Dro, Panamanian. This was a win for Afro-Latinxs and Latinxs everywhere, as it brings more visibility to Afro-Latinxs on screen, and in Hollywood.
Model Brandi Quinones Lands the Cover of US Vogue
Model Brandi Quinones, who is Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican and Sicilian, rose to the top of the modeling world. She modeled for major houses, including Chanel, Versace, Dior, and Saint Laurent, and landed on magazine covers, including US Vogue in 1994.
Arturo Schomburg Researches and Shares Afro-Latinx and African-American History
Arturo Schomburg, born in Puerto Rico to a mother from St. Croix, and a German father, was told by his teacher that there was no black history, no black achievements, and no black heroes. He knew that was not true, and spent his life researching and sharing proof of Afro-Latinx and African-American excellence.
Cardi B Breaks Music Records
Afro-Dominicana rapper Cardi B stepped on the rap scene and quickly ascended to the top. She was the first rapper since Lauren Hill (17 years ago) to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 by herself. Cardi’s first album debuted at #1. She has been nominated for seven Grammys. That’s not even all the things this Afro-Latinx has achieved.
Noelle Santos Opens the Only Bookstore in The Bronx
When the Barnes and Noble closed in The Bronx, it left the borough without a bookstore. This is where Afro-Puerto Rican Noelle Santos comes in. She saved the day by deciding to open The Lit. Bar, a place offering books, wine (via a wine bar), and a community center.
Model Arlenis Sosa Becomes an Overnight Success
A lot of models move to New York and struggle to get consistent work. Not Afro-Dominicana Arlenis Sosa. When she arrived in New York, she was signed on the spot. During her first week in the city, Anna Wintour selected Arlenis to attend the biggest fashion event of the year — the Met Gala. Two weeks after being signed, she shot editorials for Vogue.
Yumileidi Cumba Jay Wins Two Gold Medals for Cuba
Afro-Cubana Yumileidi Cumba has won two gold medals for Cuba. Her first was in 1990, for the discus throw. The second was in 2004 for shot put.
Ilia Calderon Becomes First Afro-Latina Anchor on a Major Network in the U.S.
Afro-Colombian journalist Ilia Calderon made history when she became the co-anchor of Noticiero Univision. She is the first Afro-Latina to anchor a major network news desk in the United States.
Joan Smalls Becomes the First Latina Face of Estee Lauder
Another top model who is Afro-Latinx is Joan Smalls. The Afro-Puerto Rican, who models.com called one of the next supermodels, made history when she became the first Latina face of Estee Lauder.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Painting is Most Expensive Artwork by American
Iconic Afro-Puerto Rican artist Jean-Michel Basquiat did something that no other artist in America has done — sell a painting (“Untitled”) for $110.5 million.
Melania Luisa Marte Petitions to Include “Afro-Latina” in the Dictionary
Words are powerful and the dictionary is a book which proves things are real and that they exist. Inspirational Afro-Dominicana Melania-Luisa Marte created the change she wanted to see by starting a petition to get the word “Afro-Latina” added to the dictionary.
John Carlos’ Black Power Salute at the 1968 Olympics
At the 1968 Olympics, two men, Afro-Cubano John Carlos and African-American Tommie Smith, raised their fists to demand justice (Peter Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity with Carlos and Smith). The photo of the two, raising the Black Power salute (which Smith called a “human rights salute”) became iconic.