Photo: Instagram/sharongc

11 Women Open Up About the Moment They Proudly Identified as Afro-Latinas

The intersection between Black and Latino identity runs deep and yet there is still this misconception that all Latinos look like Salma Hayek or Jennifer Lopez. The truth is, being Black and being Latino are far from mutually exclusive and a lot of Latinas are recognizing the importance of embracing and loving their Afro-diasporic roots. Here 11 Latinas open up about the moment they realized they were Afro-Latina and why they are proud AF of their heritage!

Rocio Mora, New Orleans, Louisiana

Nationality: Honduran and Mexican

Occupation: Digital Influencer and founder of RisasRizos

IG Handle @RisasRizos

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I had known about my family’s roots but never labeled myself as anything other than JUST Latina. It wasn’t until I was featured in an article for Top Afro-Latinas to follow, that the term came into personal conversation. A family member asked how I felt being listed as an Afro-Latina, since no one in my immediate family identified with the term. It was something my family and I never talked about. It was at that point that I realized, well… I am actually Afro-Latina by way of my maternal grandmother, so I should be proud and honored to have been listed that way, and I think my grandmother would have been proud too.”

On misconceptions surrounding the term Afro-Latina. “I’ve heard some people say that the term Afro-Latinidad is another word used to divide Latinos and I feel that’s false. I think it helps to identify people like me who come from European and African descent. Why would I want to deny being Black if the curls on my head and the color of my skin were given to me by my Black grandmother, great grandmother and ancestors? By identifying as Afro-Latina, I am acknowledging and embracing my complex history and beautifully intertwined African descent.”

Sharon Gallardo, Queens, NY

Nationality: Dominican

Occupation: Actress/Model

IG Handle: @sharongc

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I never really thought about it when I lived back in the Dominican Republic because most people are mixed race, it was more when I moved here to the states. Mainly because people are usually like what are you? That tends to make you think about your background. I know I’m obviously not African-American because I wasn’t born or raised in the U.S. But when I look at myself in the mirror I see African, Spaniard and native features all mixed.

On why she think it’s so important to be proud of her African ancestry. “I believe that in order for you to truly be happy and live a content life, you have to accept who you are and where you’re from.”

Julieth Matta, South Florida

Nationality: Colombian

Occupation: Photographer and homemaker

IG Handle: @julie_matta

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I’ve always been aware of my heritage. Growing up I was surrounded by a big Colombian family. We are from the coast of Colombia from the city of Barranquilla, which is native to many Afro-Colombians. People [in the states] never assumed I was Colombian because of my darker skin, but I was always proud of my culture, my hair, the music, food, and lively personalities that resemble that of our African ancestors.”

On misconceptions surrounding the term Afro-Latina. “We don’t all look the same! Afro-Latinos have many different skin tones, hair textures, and even dialects.”

Maria Paulina Torchon, NYC

Nationality: Ecuadorian

Occupation: Sample department office manager

IG Handle: @mariapauli

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I recognized myself as an Afro-Latina when I became a teenager. In Ecuador, the majority of its population is mestizo (71.9 percent) and only 1 percent are Black. My grandparents were from Esmeraldas, one of five provinces populated by Blacks. I was born and raised in Guayaquil, the largest and most populous city in Ecuador, however, it was when I came to the United States that I embraced my heritage more openly and proudly. It was easier to love my skin color and curly hair in this melting pot; in this city where you can experience an array of shapes, shades, hair textures, and cultures.”

On misconceptions surrounding the term Afro-Latina. “People truly believe Afro-Latinas are mainly Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, but Central and South America has Afro-Latinas as part of their population too. Even in Argentina there is a small Black population.”

Carolina Sanchez-Martinez, Portland, Oregon

Nationality: Cuban

Occupation: Student and nanny

IG Handle: @pdxcubana

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I began realizing my Afro-Latina identity when I entered high school. My high school consisted of predominately African Americans, Central Americans, and Asians. I realized I had to find my identity and find confidence where I was being challenged every day by my Latino and Black classmates. Neither side would accept me. They had never seen someone who was Black and spoke Spanish and so I began recognizing who I was and decided to educate myself on my identity. What helped me honestly was the internet and social media, where I found other people who loved who they are and who shared my same identity.”

On why she think it’s so important to be proud of her African ancestry. “It’s important for Afro-Latinas to be proud of this part of their heritage because we give voice to other different populations of Afro-Latinos who were marginalized in Latino society. It is because of those of us who find confidence and truth in our identity that we can become ambassadors of our people, our culture, and validate our own identity.”

Stephanie Ferreira, Queens, NY

Nationality: Dominican

Occupation: Teacher

IG Handle: @la_unica6089

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I had always heard rumblings about the history of the Dominican Republic, so I was aware of how we were mixed race with Black, but I also heard it from people that were ashamed of it and spoke about it as a negative thing. I felt like I’ve spent my life trying to hide that part of me by making myself resemble society’s Eurocentric beauty standards. When I went to college I became a lot more self-aware and learned more about my country’s history. It’s been an ongoing process though. My journey into growing out my natural hair has done a lot for me to help identify with being Afro-Latina. I would look at YouTube videos and see these beautiful Latinas that looked like me and identified with being Afro-Latina.”

On why she think it’s so important to be proud of her African ancestry. “It’s important because at the end of the day if you’re not proud of where you come from, you’re not loving who you are entirely. You are allowing society and generations of racism to dictate your perception of yourself.”

Janel Martinez, Bronx, NY

Nationality:  Honduran (Garifuna)

Occupation: Enterpreneur, journalist & creator of AintILatina.com

IG Handle: @aintilatina

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I’ve always been hyper aware of my presence. Outside of my family, especially in school, I never quite fit in when it came to how others perceived me. It was like, ‘How are you Latina when you’re visibly Black?’ Or, ‘How are you Black when your last name is Martinez?’ I always knew I was Garifuna from Honduras because my parents spoke Garifuna, we ate Garifuna food, and participated in Garifuna traditions. But outside of my home and family, not many people knew what it meant to be Garifuna. It took an African American studies program for me to really settle into my identity.”

On why she think it’s so important to be proud of her African ancestry. “I think it’s important Afro-Latinas embrace their Blackness hands down. We’re Black women, but due to transatlantic slave trade and colonization we are also Latina because our ships landed in Latina America. By design, we’re taught to move away from our Blackness and embrace the other aspects of our identity: European/Spanish or indigenous roots. There’s nothing wrong with embracing those parts of yourself, but take as much pride in your Blackness también.”

Cindy Diaz, Brooklyn, NY

Cindy Diaz Afro-Latina
Photo: Courtesy of Cindy Diaz

Nationality: Dominican

Occupation: Journalist and beauty vlogger

IG Handle: @vinylblush

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I grew up in a community that didn’t understand the difference between ethnicity and race. When people asked, ‘What are you?’ the response was always Dominican. My identity was tied to where my parents were born, not where my ancestors are from. That changed in my 20s with the rise of the use of the term Afro-Latina, and seeing people of all skin tones embrace it and use it as a way to reclaim the part of our identity that has been downplayed because of colonialism and colorism.”

On misconceptions surrounding the term Afro-Latina. “There’s this misconception that you need to have a certain percentage of Blackness in order to claim that you are Afro-Latina. But you don’t need to look like Celia Cruz, it’s not about that. It’s about uplifting a part of your history that has been ignored and hated on. Embracing that does not mean that I don’t recognize the privilege associated with being a Latina with light skin. But with such a long history of oppression and denial of Blackness, that is extremely hurtful, it is more important than ever to flip the script and show that this is something to be proud of. That is the only way to end this destructive cycle that perpetuates hate.”

Jaquelin Rodriguez, Queens, NY

Nationality: Dominican

Occupation: Empowerment coach, speaker and founder of Love Your Curvas

IG Handle: @loveyourcurvas

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “My mother and grandmother have darker skin, so I was aware that we come in all complexions. But it wasn’t something I really questioned. However, I was fortunate to attend a high school that immersed us in African studies and Civil Rights movements. I learned true history and not from the viewpoint that glorified Christopher Columbus as a hero.”

On why she think it’s so important to be proud of her African ancestry. “Rejecting any part of our history only gives strength to perpetual oppression and self-hatred. Any time we don’t accept a part of ourselves, we send a message that says we are not good enough.”

Rachel L. Ruiz Mathieu, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Nationality: Puerto Rican and Haitian

Occupation: Student at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón

IG Handle: @freckleface3

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I’ve always loved where my family was from and was very proud of who I am, but I first recognized it when I started to go natural. I’ve texturized and permed my hair since I was 11 years old and as I got older, I didn’t want to deal with my natural hair so I kept it up. After a year or maybe two of cutting out my texturized hair, I started to accept that part of me.”

On what she loves most about being Afro-Latina. “What I love most about being Afro-Latina, is my family. Part of my family came from Haiti and moved to Puerto Rico and the story and the history behind it is something I’m extremely proud of and grateful for.”

Sherly Tavarez, NYC

Nationality: Dominican

Occupation: Fashion stylist

IG Handle: @sherlytavarez

On the moment she realized she was Afro-Latina. “I recognized I was Afro-Latina about four years ago when my best friend stopped relaxing her hair and told me she was no longer using heat and I told her ‘You’re crazy! I would never do that.’ Once I started seeing her beautiful curls coming in, I started wondering what my natural hair looked like. I didn’t know what my natural texture was like because my mom had started relaxing my hair when I was just six years old. I literally recall seeing the little curly hairs coming through my edges and immediately yelling ‘Mom, it’s time for a relaxer now.’ I’m so glad that’s not my life anymore.”

On why she think it’s so important to be proud of her African ancestry. “I think it’s important for you to be YOU. If your hair is naturally curly, coarse, or kinky, you should let it just be that. For me, I can honestly say that I have never felt so much like my best version of me until I told the world, ‘Hey, this is me. That is what you get”