22 Afro-Latinas Who Shaped Black History and Redefined Culture
Swizz Beatz once said, “It takes risk, courage, and a view of the future that others cannot see” to change the world. The DJ and rapper of Puerto Rican descent had a clear perspective of not only what it takes to ignite change but also the importance of keeping an eye on the goal. And that’s part of what Black History Month is about.
This February 1 kicks off the one-month celebration of achievements by African Americans. It’s a time to recognize their central role in U.S. history. But, most importantly, the work that still needs to be done.
Disparity, racism, and ignorance are still rampant in our country. Yet, there’s no better way to correct course than to revisit history, especially Afro-Latino history. As Jaqueline Garcel, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation, once explained, “The contributions of Afro-Latinos to this country and Black history go hand in hand.”
That’s why we’ve compiled a list of 22 Afro-Latinas who changed Black history, made their voices heard, and paved the path for younger generations.
Celebrate Black History Month by remembering these fierce jefas.
Often hailed as the “Queen of Salsa,” Celia Cruz was a vivacious Cuban-American singer. She was celebrated for her commanding voice and electrifying stage presence. Cruz’s career spanned six decades. This way, she became an iconic figure in Latin music, leaving an indelible mark on the global salsa scene with hits like “La Vida Es Un Carnaval.”
Similarly, Cardi B, born Belcalis Almánzar, emerged as a trailblazing figure in the hip-hop industry. This Afro-Latina garnered attention for her unfiltered personality, chart-topping songs, and groundbreaking achievements. The Grammy-winning rapper from the Bronx has transcended traditional boundaries, becoming a symbol of empowerment and resilience.
Julia de Burgos
Julia de Burgos, a Puerto Rican poet, is remembered for her poignant verses that explored themes of identity, feminism, and social justice. Her literary contributions, such as “Poema en veinte surcos,” solidified her status as a significant figure in Latin American literature.
Sandra Guzmán, an Afro-Taina journalist and author, has been a driving force in advocating for diversity and inclusion within the media landscape. As a result, Guzmán’s career reflects a commitment to breaking barriers and amplifying underrepresented voices in journalism.
In similar fashion, Gwen Ifill, a trailblazing African-American journalist, made history as the co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. She moderated multiple vice-presidential debates, leaving an enduring legacy in political reporting. Ifill’s remarkable career was characterized by her insightful analysis and commitment to unbiased journalism.
For her part, MJ Rodriguez, an actress and singer, gained widespread acclaim for her groundbreaking role in the TV series “Pose.” After that, she has contributed to increasing the visibility and acceptance of transgender individuals in mainstream media.
Maritza Correia McClendon
Another groundbreaking Afro-Latina is Maritza Correia McClendon. She is an Olympic swimmer who made history as the first Puerto Rican of African descent to compete in swimming at the Olympics, breaking down racial barriers in the sport.
Martina Arroyo, an acclaimed soprano, achieved international success in the opera world. She founded the Martina Arroyo Foundation to support young opera singers, leaving a lasting impact on classical music.
Miriam Jimenez Roman
Miriam Jimenez Roman, a historian and scholar, made significant contributions to the understanding of Afro-Latino history and identity through her research and publications.
Rosa Clemente is an Afro-Latina activist, journalist, and former Green Party vice-presidential candidate. She has dedicated her life to social justice and political activism, advocating for marginalized communities.
Janel Martinez is a Garifuna journalist and founder of “Ain’t I Latina?.” By the same token, she has been a vocal advocate for Afro-Latinx representation in media, challenging stereotypes and promoting inclusivity.
Sunny Hostin is an attorney and co-host of “The View.” She has made impactful contributions to legal analysis and journalism while advocating for social justice issues.
Susana Baca is a prominent Peruvian singer and ethnomusicologist. She has celebrated and preserved Afro-Peruvian music and culture, earning international acclaim for her contributions.
Soledad O’Brien is an award-winning journalist and producer. She has been a prominent voice in news media, addressing issues of race and inequality through her reporting and documentaries.
Toto La Momposina
Toto La Momposina, a Colombian singer and dancer, is a living legend. She is known for preserving and promoting the traditional music and dance of the Caribbean coast, contributing to the cultural richness of Colombia.
Rosie Pérez is a versatile actress, director, and activist. She has made significant contributions to the entertainment industry while advocating for various social causes, including HIV/AIDS awareness and education.
Elizabeth Acevedo, a Dominican-American poet and novelist, has gained acclaim for her powerful and impactful works exploring themes of identity and womanhood, receiving accolades such as the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Judy Reyes, an actress of Dominican descent, is best known for her roles in TV series like “Scrubs” and “Devious Maids,” breaking barriers for Latina actresses in Hollywood and paving the way for greater representation.
Sylvia del Villard
Sylvia del Villard, a Puerto Rican actress, dancer, and cultural activist, was a trailblazer in promoting Afro-Puerto Rican arts and culture, leaving an enduring legacy in the island’s cultural landscape.
Esperanza Spalding, a Grammy-winning jazz bassist and vocalist, has redefined the boundaries of jazz music with her innovative and genre-defying approach, earning her a place among the most influential contemporary musicians.
Victoria Santa Cruz
Victoria Santa Cruz, a Peruvian choreographer, composer, and folklorist, played a pivotal role in the cultural renaissance of Afro-Peruvian arts, contributing to the preservation and promotion of the country’s rich cultural heritage.
Lorena Borjas, a transgender Afro-Latina activist, tirelessly advocated for the rights and well-being of transgender and immigrant communities in New York City, leaving a lasting impact on the LGBTQ+ rights movement.