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Afro-Latino: 6 Women Open Up About Being Black And Latina

“It’s a brown thing, baby. And black is beautiful.”

“We got a little bit of black in us!” is what the Puerto Ricans that I grew up around in the South Bronx used to joke. The idea that blackness was something beyond skin color never made much sense back then. But the older I got, the more I realized how prevalent those African roots were in my own Dominican heritage. “It’s a brown thing, baby," an aunt once told me. “And black is beautiful.”

Being Latino is complex enough. With all the cultures, religions, traditions, geographical compositions and mosaic of hues encompassed, it can be hard for Latinos to define themselves, and damn near impossible for someone on the outside to fully absorb the multiplicity of Latino culture. Now add Afro or black into the mix, and the questions about cultural makeup and identity are endless. But the reality is that these two identities are far from mutually exclusive, and have been speaking to each other for eons.

VIBE VIVA solicited a number of responses to the question: "What does it mean to be both black and Latino?" The narratives we collected were each told from the perspective of a woman; they share what it really means for them to grow up black and Latino. Because as Christy Martinez points out, it can be incredibly complicated, and especially conflicting if it meant "denying our blackness after generations of exposure to political and societal anti-blackness."

. . .


Christy Martinez, 23, Bronx, New York
Being raised in a typical Dominican household meant many things. It meant listening to lots of merengue and bachata (especially as you cleaned the house). It meant being raised Catholic despite the fact that everyone contradicted all its doctrines. It meant having pride in our deep roots of revolution. But it also often meant denying our blackness after generations of exposure to political and societal anti-blackness.

I was taught since childhood to only acknowledge conventional beauty. To flaunt my light eyes and fair skin. To only be attracted to someone who would "advance my blood line," and to ultimately hate who I really was; a Latina of AFRICAN descent.

Once I started learning about my African roots, it felt as though I discovered a couple chapters of my life's story that had been hidden. Interestingly, a lot of what I discovered showed me just how much Latinos have in common with Africans and the multitude of ways our cultures crossover into one another. So much of our foods, music, dance, dialect and lifestyle have been influenced by Africa. It's a shame there's not more acknowledgement of it, because our similarities hold the key to our unity.

Being an Afro-Latina means not having to apologize for my blackness anymore. I've found pride in the not-so-convenient features I was told to hide, like my kinky curly hair, round lips, thick hips and wide nose. It means using my powerful voice to talk about the plight of Afro-Latinos in the world through the lens of a woman, because we are a silent majority who matter too. Ultimately, this new-found identity is an opportunity to continue to find myself and inspire others to stop accepting the labels of society and do the same. Being an Afro-Latina has changed me life, I will never be the same... and I'm thankful for that.

A photo posted by Maña Maña (@diomara_d) on


Diomara Delvalle, 26, Brooklyn, New York
Growing up as a black Latina was actually very confusing for me. When people would ask "what are you?" and I would reply "Panamanian." The answer would almost always be: "Wait, so you're Latina? I thought you were black?" This was always a very exhausting question to answer and explain.

My family knows they are black people (people of African descent), so this was never something we had to discuss. Because I went to school in Panama for a short period of time, I saw all the various races and colors Latinx people can come in. Having interactions with lighter Latinx people and non-Latinx people as a child left me questioning myself.

Was I black? Was I Latina?

It was not until I researched the history of Panama did I have a firm understanding of my background. It was not until I Googled the definitions of race and ethnicity did I realize you can FULLY be both.

Afro-Latinx was not a term I used growing up. However, I'm glad it was created because there is growing visibility of Latinx people of African Descent. This term also sparks conversation that either enlightens people or exposes them for their ignorance and/or anti-blackness. Needless to say, being Afro-Latina is amazing. So much culture.

A photo posted by Shyane (@shy__ane) on


Shyane Dejesus, 27, Astoria, Queens
My Afro Latina-ism is different from yours or any one else's. Yeah, some may argue that we are one, but in retrospect, we're not. I personally don't identify with Colombian culture [for example] just as much as I don't identify with white culture. And that's because I'm the product of a mother who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, who later came to Brooklyn and met my daddy, who was born and raised in Brownsville—Brooklyn to be exact.

It wasn't until recently that I found out my dad's dad is actually from Trinidad. Let me also point out I don't relate to Trinidadian culture either. So you might ask: "Well who the hell do you relate to?" My answer is ME.

My Afro Latina consists of permed hair (trying to go natural), black cousins, growing up laughing obliviously to racist jokes, playing double dutch, being the only nine-year-old that could braid hair, do my own hair, and yep, I was that chunky girl who ate too much beef patties with coco bread.

It wasn't until my late 20s that I learnedAfro-Latina was even a term. I just always said that I was black and Puerto Rican, and let me tell y'all I said it with pride. I was never ashamed to be from either side. It's when I became older that I chose to identify with being ONLY black (due to ignorance). I don't speak Spanish, my mom only speaks Spanish to her mom, and to be honest, a majority of my friends are black because I grew up in predominantly black neighborhoods. I speak "black slang," I have "black" hair, my brothers are black, my boyfriend is black and let's not forget my daddy is black. I also grew up with a family who was and still is unapologetically black.

It's actually quite simple: I'm a black girl who identifies with Puerto Rican culture, and yeah I'm obsessed with arroz con pollo just as much as I'm obsessed with macaroni and collard greens.

A photo posted by Kayla S Z Fory (@kaylafory) on


Kayla Zapata Fory, 24, Accra, Ghana
On my identity as an Afro-Colombiana: Being black and Latina is not mutually exclusive, I am proud to identify as both. Learning to accept mi afro-latinidad has been a winding journey, exploring the mosaic of my cultural identity. I look in the mirror and am reminded that the roots of mi pelo afro extend to Africa, just as my favorite sancocho. I am humbled by the resilience of my people and derive strength from ancestors that have come before me.


Jasmyn Santiago, 25, Jacksonville, Florida
Identity crisis! For as long as I can remember, my race and ethnicity has always been questioned. I am pretty certain many Afro-Latinas have struggled to figure out where they "fit in." Too light skinned to be black and hair too kinky to really be "Hispanic."

Growing up, I never knew "what I was." Many times I would be asked was one of my parent's white because I "have" to be mixed with something. Being asked "So do you speak Puerto Rican" and feeling shamed when you let them know you don't speak Spanish. Sitting through standardized tests or job applications trying to figure out which box to check: "black, non-Hispanic" or "Hispanic" (with no option to be black and Latina).

Truth is, Hispanic is my ethnicity, Black is my race, and American is my nationality. I am a black Hispanic-American. When will [people] ever get that right? An ex-employer has even asked me "So, you're black today," as if I could choose when to switch off any portions of who I am at any given time.

Having to explain yourself to everyone posing the question, "What are you," is exhausting. Who am I? It was not until I became an adult that this became clear. I am the best of both worlds. My heritage runs deep. My Hispanic roots and my African roots intermingle. My ancestors can all be traced back to the same place.... Mother Africa. I love being Latina. The Hispanic culture is rich in all we do. My PR flag is raised high. We are proud and not quiet about it.

And I love being black—descendant of the most resilient people. Spreading my #blackgirlmagic everywhere I go and I don't care who it bothers. Ultimately, I had to learn that being Afro-Latina was truly something unique and beautiful. It gave me the outlet to educate others about my culture. It definitely has its challenges, but I love it. When I became comfortable with who I am, I realized I don't have to choose sides... I just am! I'm both and so proud of it! To choose one side over the other is deny parts of what makes me who I am. I am all-inclusive! I do not have to validate my blackness or my Hispanic roots to anyone. If me being Afro-Latina confuses you, I'm sorry—not sorry.


Damary Caraballo, 32, Bronx, New York
I didn't embrace my full Afro Latina-ness until my late '20s. As I reflect now, I think it was because my light skinned, green eyed abuela treated her brown skinned grandkids differently as opposed to the ones who had a more fair skin tone. [I also encountered] black women who disliked me for dating "their men."

Growing up, I felt like Latinas and African American girls were always divided—even after Big Pun and Fat Joe had us screaming "Boricua, morena." But I've always yelled out both with full pride!

My abuela's apparent disdain for the darker side of the family and blatant favoritism for the lighter probably did the most damage to my self esteem growing up. She made me feel like black was ugly, being black was a joke, from calling my cousin from the "lighter side" whose father was African a "monkey" to reminding us "no dañe la raza" [don't ruin our race] because we came out like her, attracted to the chocolate skin and she felt like 5 kids later she had made a mistake by marrying my grandfather.

As an adult, I understand that her failed relationship with my grandfather, who was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico—he looked like he was straight from the motherland—was what drove my abuela's hate. It was that hate that fueled my pride. I realized what got to her, what got under her skin, and I flaunted my blackness even more. It was on my grandmother's death bed when she asked me and my [black] boyfriend when we planned on having babies. I knew that was her way of apologizing and I accepted it.

What did being black and Latina mean to me back then? Not being black enough and "wanting to be down" in the eyes of black women. It meant feeling like a disgrace in the eyes of a light skinned Latina. What does it mean to me now? Strength, Goddess, Magic, the best of both worlds. Power that no one can take away, not through shame nor ignorance.

 

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P Diddy promotes his new Diddy Dirty Money single 'Coming Home' and his headphones DiddyBeats at HMV, Oxford Street on January 20, 2011 in London, England.
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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Courtesy of Level.com

Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.

 

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