The last decade of U.S. history has seen Latinos on a tipping point, where the minority has increasingly become the majority. Somewhere between tragic injustice and political turmoil, we rolled up our collective sleeves and began to scream from the margins. The results birthed a new wave of like-minded individuals emboldened to redefine the American dream, carve new lanes and create a much-needed dialogue on what exactly it means to be Latino in a country that historically hasn't pledged allegiance to the very fabric that built its nation. Or, just as importantly, what does it mean to be a person of color who gets to create (change) for a living, when the lineage from which we come once had to undergo persecution for, perhaps, exercising speech and art? When there was once a time that being a writer, for example, could get you killed?
In a social climate currently riddled with anti-immigrant, anti-black, and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, it is especially crucial we give voice to the many narratives that makeup the cultural palette that is Latino, which is to say that is intrinsically America. By turning the lens on race, identity and privilege, we hope to give a nuanced experience of the U.S. Latino. People who, through their actions and contributions, add fuel to the fire, turning a deferred dream into something vibrantly tangible. These Latinos, with their deep-seated sense of social responsibility, are constantly being tugged at by cultural memory, driven by the pride running through their veins. In their own words, these are their stories.
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Lenny Santiago: Redefining The American Dream
I’m an "uneducated" immigrant artist at work. I'm Puerto-Rican decent, raised in a single family home. My dad was around, but he re-married and had another family. So, it was my mom and my grandmother helping me through life, whether it was cosigning for something or just supporting me overall. We didn't have the money to go to college. I've always wanted to be in the music industry since I was 11-years old, so I chased that dream through high school. After high school, I got an internship and I never turned back.
I knew from a young age what my mom and grandmother were doing just from a heritage cultural standpoint. An uneducated kid from the Bronx couldn't go to college, and I had to make a way while a lot of my peers were going to jail and getting hooked on drugs. My cousin and I grew up together. He got on drugs, caught full blown AIDS—those were the examples that was around me growing up in the Bronx. So, I wanted to turn that around, and photography—a hobby of mine—helped me do that. Being a music executive is my career, and I used that in life turning negatives into positives. Taking pictures since they were negatives, going to K-Mart to develop pictures. I used that term throughout my whole life. It meant everything in the world that I made something of myself in this society.
I think [Latinos] get overlooked a lot for things. I don't see a lot of us in high positions in the industry, and I don't mean the "Latin" industry. I’m talking outside the niche. People that don't even know I'm Puerto-Rican, they're like what does the 'S' stand for? Santiago. I grew up around Puerto-Ricans, I grew up around a lot of black people. My kids are half black. I've been immersed in the African-American culture since being a kid, but I am Latino and I represent to the fullest. There isn't a lot of us inside an entertainment industry that views everything so white and black. So, that was really important to me, to make my mark because like, yo, we know the culture, we know the music, we've been a part of it since Day 1, we know what's going on, we know how to lead our generation into great positions of high stature. That was really important to me, especially when people didn't know that I am Latino.
I need Latino kids to know that this is possible, 100 percent possible. I didn't grow up knowing Jay Z, I didn't get a handout, a position because I am a family member, or knew them from the neighborhood. I worked hard. I interned. I worked for free. And I grinded. I knew that I could prove that I could do it.
Jay Z is my best friend, my brother, my boss, my everything. I been with Jay Z—this is marking 20 years. Since Reasonable Doubt. If it wasn’t with him, I probably wouldn't be in the entertainment business. I’d be doing something cool, trying to be some dope ass photographer or a chef. The entertainment business is not easy, and if I wasn't doing it with family, I wouldn't be doing it at all. —Lenny Santiago, Roc Nation Senior VP
Dascha Polanco: Breaking The Mold
For Dascha, being an immigrant artist at work means being proud of who I am, it means being able to speak on my own identity struggles, it means being be able to speak the truth when it comes to things that are swept under the rug, especially with body image, because we don't all look the same, we all don't fit in the same box.
To be Latina in this country, at this very moment—I’ve always been proud. But now that pride that I once kept inside (because maybe I felt I was too hickish, or too cha cha cha, or too Spanish) is what actually defines and makes me as unique and as valuable as I am today. And I think that was missing growing up.
I don’t feel like [Latinos] job is complete. Just because one person is getting the opportunity doesn’t mean the majority have been addressed or given the same kind of access. Because, as well all know, Latinos don’t come in one shape or from one experience. We are a fusion. We have so much culture. We have a deep and complex heritage. So for us, doors need to be opened for many to see a difference for us to actually feel a movement is happening and is significant.
There’s a lot more work to be done, and for me, having the privilege to be a working Latina actor means being honest about my experience and what I have come across. I will have to continuously speak on that. I’m not going to hide something that is the truth because I don't want to hurt or give a bad image to those that feel like their image is at stake if [Dascha] speaks up. No, this is my truth, this is my experience, I’m going to speak up, whether people like it or not, in hopes that it creates a ripple effect of change. —Dascha Polanco, Actor
Tony Peralta: Defending Blackness
I’m a first-born generation, it’s something that I hold dear to me. My parents were immigrants, so being a son of an immigrant is like being one of those people who is trying to do justice for my parents coming over here. And then there's also wanting to represent the underrepresented, because this is a country that was in fact built by the underrepresented: immigrants. So to me, with the work that I do, I feel it’s my duty to do the best to represent those people because nobody else is doing it. Not only are [immigrants] often misrepresented, but then they're sh*tted on, too.
There's a lot of new dialogue surrounding Latinidad. And Latinos—we’re a strong force. So, a part of being Latino in this country today is knowing your value as a people. I, more than ever before, have embraced the term Afro-Latino because of the lack of representation of the spectrum, which is something I’ve always had a problem with. And it’s the main reason why I am an artist, and I do the work that focuses on people of color. It’s one of those things where I’m not trying to be famous, but I want to be known so that people at least can think, "Oh sh*t, this dude who is dark-skinned, is Dominican?" Yea. You know what I mean? Because there are so many times I'm looked at with the face that reads, "Oh really, you speak Spanish?" And it’s like yeah, don’t you know that there’s a full spectrum of Latino people? There's an importance attached to that term—Afro-Latino, because representation matters. —Tony Peralta, Artist
Amy Andrieux: Creating Dangerously
I think it depends on how you define immigrant. I think the idea of being an immigrant is someone who has departed their own land, to live else where, right? And I think that as people of color we are always in a perpetual state of immigration—or migration, rather. For me, especially, being first generation American, I think it kinda hits home even further. A lot of my work is about this kind of duplicitous… duality… space. Am I American? Am I Haitian/Dominican/Cuban/Polish? Am I New Yorker? Am I American? Am I—like, what am I? Am I a hip-hop chick, or am I a suburban girl? [It's about] all these dualities that kinda conflict with each other. As I said before, I think [people of color] are in this perpetual state of: who are we, what are we, how do we define ourselves, and how does that shine through our work? Especially as people of color, we're soulful. We can't create a work without our essence in it. That's what made hip-hop so powerful. I think that's why you hear a lot of the older generations getting so mad and angry about the state of where music is today. We are soulful people, we don't have to sell ourselves short.
Me, I am my art. I am living, breathing art. That melanin, it speaks to being soulful, and emits a certain radiance that you cannot deny. Whether we're walking down the street, chilling on the train, making a song, creating art—anything we do shines. And there's always a story to what we do, nothing that we do is separate from slavery, separate from police brutality, for example, separate from how we are oppressed on a daily basis. That energy is what fuels what we do, it fuels the creativity, it fuels the vibe. To be an artist, who is also an immigrant, for me it means always having a voice and being true to that voice. And not being afraid to be that voice. There will be times that other people will do it because it's on trend, and they think it's popping right now, so they'll do it. But you can't rush to the finish line to catch up with them. You have to take your time and hone your craft and put it out in the world the right way. Because what you say [should be] poignant and on time. For me, that's what is key as an [Afro-Latina] artist.
I say this all the time: I'm more of an artist than I am a journalist. I am more of an artist than I am a media executive. I'm more of an artist than any of those other labels. I have to carry that responsibility in my work. And you know what? Hallelujah to the people who are journalists and are brilliant and who I respect for inspiring me to come into this game, but that's not who I am. I am always going to be a voice of the people, not the checks.
What does it mean to be Afro-Latina? Does it exist? To you, right? But let's break it down. If I don't have curly ringlets, or light skin like the J. Los of the world, or something in between like Gina Torres, it's like wait, "You're not really Latina." I've heard it before: "You're not a real Latina." Ok, so what defines a real Latino? Is it what the media has created? Is it because [someone] speaks Spanish? Is it because [someone] lives in Puerto Rico? Where is Latin America and what is Hispanic? Who are we? It wasn't until reggaeton that Dominicans, for example, started to be "cool." I just think it's interesting because to be Afro-Latina means many things for me, things to be discovered. —Amy Andrieux, Writer/Red Bull Global Editor & Manager
Nitty Scott, MC: Pushing The Culture Forward
I am, in many respects, responsible for the preservation of our culture, and for keeping the narrative authentic. I discuss this a lot I think on my new project, because I am absolutely a child of the diaspora. I’m a daughter of it, which is actually one of the names of one of the records on my upcoming projects because I feel that I carry that trauma, that strength, that spirit in my veins. Even some of the mental tribulations of my people that I feel gets passed down, I also carry within me.
For me, being Latina, being Afro-Boricua, is just about representation and about being painfully honest about who I am because that’s the only way that the dialogue about my intersectionality happens; it occurs only when I wear it. So you know, I have done away with just being accepted as someone who is talented. Now I'm demanding the conversation be inclusive one, meaning all the parts that make me who I am. So by me making sure that I represent and express that I am Afro-Latina, that I am a woman, that I am bisexual, that I struggle with my mental health. By being unafraid to be that open, it’s like I feel the need to help influence and facilitate the bigger conversation.
I think it’s important to discuss the face of Latinos and Latinas because I don’t think that people totally understand that you can be Latina as well as you could be white or black or Asian. So it’s a conversation that I’m trying to help discuss. And I also personally want to fight the idea that in my culture specifically, in hip-hop culture—I was instructed in the past to not represent my Latino roots as proudly as my black roots because of the fact that hip-hop is somehow viewed as solely African American. That is so historically inaccurate. The guineas of the culture in the Bronx were Latinos. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans had a hand in the creation of hip-hop, of this now-global phenomenon. So for us to be so involved in it only to be told years later that you might not want to wave that flag, is insane and disrespectful. —Nitty Scott, MC, Rapper
Carolina Contreras: Redefining Beauty
I feel very privileged to be a woman of color, a Latina, an Afro-Latina, getting to do what I love and what I believe in. I'm very lucky to have found what I love through my own lived experience, something that I can do to change the way things are. I’ve been this activist since I was 13. When I was in Somerville, I was helping to eliminate smoking in public places. So I have been really active in the world, in my community since very young. I always knew I would be doing something that would leave this world a better place than how I found it. But I never imagined that I would be doing what I’m doing now. When I decided to leave my hair natural about six years ago, that changed everything for me.
It all really took off when people were stopping me in the streets, asking me how did I get [my hair] to look like this, or what product did I use. So for me, it was like the people are asking and I'm going to respond. It was the perfect opportunity to do what I love, which is to facilitate women empowerment through hair, to facilitate racial justice through hair in a very fun, a very non-intimidating way. Because I think what happens, too, is that a lot of us go to college, we become "edumacated" and we become a part of the academia, and we go out and we try to teach our people our things the way we were taught in college. But there's a real dichotomy in the situation. We think because we're "woke" and all of a sudden proud to be black, that we’re going to go to the next person and be like, "You need to be proud to be black." That’s not the way you do it. It doesn’t work that way.
A lot of people think that my hair salon, Miss Rizos, is diluted commercial activism. And it's not; it’s just I speak the language of the people, and I’m able to sort of lead people into this space that’s safe for them to express themselves and then we talk about blackness, and then we talk about the heavy issues. That's how people will also go through their own process of finding their self love, their blackness through their own hair. Because once you recognize and love your kinks and curls, you’re going to look in the mirror and go: "I have a wide nose and it’s cute. My skin is dark, I don’t need to stay out of the sun on purpose to not get darker. My hips are a little wider than the next, but that’s beautiful too." So you start with your hair. That's the beginning of the journey for a lot of us. You start then falling in love with every [other] aspect of yourself.
I posted something on Facebook from Miss Rizos not too long ago. It’s like a really beautiful interactive community on there. And I always post selections on whatever I’m going through or what’s on my mind. I never post because I think it's going to get a lot of likes or shares, or anything like that. I just post. And whatever happens, happens. So I posted this reflection about how I was sick and tired of my family calling certain people "cara fina" and telling me that I should marry someone with "cara fina" to fix my family. I was sick and tired of people telling me that I shouldn’t marry the "other" person so I wouldn’t ruin the family. I wrote that, and I tied in how I realized that I love my round nose, my round face, my cheeks that are pudgy or whatever you want to call it. And I’m like I love that about myself. And then I talked very briefly about plastic surgery and how you can’t plastic surgery the soul. You can’t plastic surgery the insecurities. When a lot of people go through [plastic surgery], they think they’re going to fix this hole. I touch upon those three things in particular, and it got more than 130 comments of women saying, "I feel ugly," "I feel this…" Like people just opening themselves completely and recognizing and being vulnerable and saying how they’re feeling or how they also felt like me. And I think that’s really beautiful because we live in a society that wants you to be perfect all the time. "I’m perfect. I’m so empowered, and I am so okay." And it’s like no. We’re in secure, it’s okay. So I feel very lucky to be able to have that kind of community.
What I do can be very tough. It’s a lot of work. It’s overwhelming. I’m currently trying to figure out how do I balance everything in a way that I’m doing enough self care that I’m not losing myself inside of this movement that is so important for so many people. But sh*t, I want to live too. I want to live a nice life.
The more I travel between the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, the more I don’t identify with the way things are happening here. I think wow, "I feel like such an outsider." Man, it’s hard out here for black people, and it’s hard out here for black Latinos. And it’s hard out here for a Spanish-speaking black, afro'd woman. But what I want to say is, I feel like when I come here I’m a small fish in a very big ocean, whereas when I go to the DR, I feel like a big fish in a small pond, two absolute extremes. I feel that I miss the fact that there’s corruption. And even though there’s a lot of danger for activists in the DR and all these things, I feel empowered with more space for growth and for change. Not just in a activist way, but also in an entrepreneurial way. —Carolina Contreras, Miss Rizos Founder
Jackie Cruz: Singing A New Song
Our culture has so much to do with this America. I feel like without us, it wouldn’t be as colorful. We bring vibrancy to the United States of America. We bring our art, our culture, our dance—we bring everything. We’re an indispensable part of the American fabric, and I'm so proud of that.
To be an artist in my skin feels like a miracle. That’s the one thing I tell people that I’m so grateful about. 'Orange is the New Black' gave me a voice. Not many of us Latinos had a voice back in the day. But right now, we have the voice. Right now, we have this huge platform and it’s important to use it in a positive way. And I hope that I’m doing that because I want to encourage people to use their voice. I’m very grateful for everything that’s happening to me. Right now, I’m sitting here at VIBE, I’m having Rémy Martin Circle of Centaurs partner with me because they believe in my voice and dreams—that's just something that seemed impossible not too long ago.
It's crazy to think that being a Latina artist has opened the Hollywood door for me. And now I can do other things, not just act. Other things that I’m passionate about, which includes mentoring and inspiring other people. My previous meeting was about writing a book—a book. Being Latina in America today means I have a voice and get to use it.
Being Latina is number one, and the most powerful thing to me. This is what I came out to be: Latina. I didn't choose this. And I feel like I’m so grateful to be a part of a such a resilient community. We come in so many different colors and in so many different sizes. Our dance, our struggle has created so much in this world that we live in. I’m just proud to be able to add to the story. —Jackie Cruz, Actor/Singer
Fred Lavergne: Turning The Lens On Cultural Memory
I know a little bit of my ancestry and I think it's really interesting to see it, how I’m made up of different Caribbeans, different islands where people came together, left there to the U.S. I mean I should be probably on a dirt road somewhere, but I’m here and I think that’s very significant.
I have a lot of freedoms that my Dominican parents didn’t have, especially the freedom to express myself creatively. I think that their generation was very—they had to work and start a family young. I think our generation was the first to ask why, and say, "I don’t want to have kids right now," or "I don’t know what I want to do in school." We ask a lot of questions. I think before, the people that came before me didn't have the luxury to ask so many questions.
It’s funny because I had this conversation with my father yesterday. He told me he was proud of me for what I was doing because he wanted to do photography growing up. He’s actually an architect, he works for the city now, he's an artist in his own right by designing buildings, but it's still under the confines of government ruling. He thinks he’s living through me as a videographer.
Being Afro-Latino sometimes could be two different experiences. I just recently found out my mother is half Haitian. We found that out two-three years ago—my grandmother died recently. That was one of the secrets that came out. The reason it was a secret is 'cause Haitians are persecuted in the Dominican Republic. She didn't really know her parents. She came in as a baby raised by a dominican family. This is my grandmother were talking about. So that was one of the things that was kept secret. I found it really interesting and also empowering that I was part Haitian, because I have a great grandmother from St. Thomas and my grandfather’s Puerto Rican. I was born in DR, so it’s like a lot and I think it’s really cool.
In America today, my experience is that of a black man. I get stopped by the cops a lot. I get questioned a lot. Hispanic people say things in Spanish, thinking I don’t speak their language. I was raised to know that I was black, my father made that clear to me when I was a kid. My parents were very much Afro-Dominicans, to say the least. They knew what was up. My mom had locks up until my smaller sister came in, and then she cut them. We celebrated Kwanzaa every year growing up. My experience was different.
I’m from La Caleta in the DR. I got a lot of family there and one of my goals is to go fix up the park, the basketball court, and a couple things like that because its been sh*tty since I’ve been a kid. I really don't see why anyone doesn't fix it because it can't be that much money. So as soon as I get some money, I'm gonna go do that. I also have friends of mine that have been to jail for years. People that are smarter than me that I went to high school with that lost their way. I think all those things aren't by accident. So, I do feel responsible for a lot of those people. When [my friend] gets out of jail, I want to do a movie on him, and maybe that can help him out. He's a smart dude, it was just never proven to him that his smarts could get him out of a bad situation. —Fred Lavergne, Videographer/Filmmaker
Selangie Arlene: Weaving An Empire
My Dominican grandmother is known for her entrepreneurship. She was the first Dominican woman to own a Ford dealership in Dominican Republic. When she came to America, she opened a bodega, and then a fashion boutique. The store is now owned by a man and her boutique was closed. Back then, women didn't have as much power here, or freedom as we do now, especially as a Latina. Now that us women have more power, we're unstoppable. With power, skill and entrepreneurship, I believe I can rise and do what my grandmother wish she could've continued. Latinos are so strong, and we come from bloodlines of stronger women. When we achieve things like earn degrees and open businesses, things that the ones before us couldn't have done—we are becoming the change we want to see in the world.
Being a Latina to me means that with every accomplishment, you learn to appreciate your heritage that much more. You understand the importance of being Latina, and how family plays a huge role in everything you do, or want to accomplish. —Selangie Arlene, Fashion Designer
Bianca Salvant: Unchecking The Box
There's a responsibility I feel I have because of my cultural background. I have more room to talk, more room to have an opinion because of my cultural background and because of my experience in the world. And by that I mean when you're a person of color in this world, you have more to say and there [should be] more validation because of the experiences our people go through.
My people have a sort of conviction most don't. I know we have a lot of white allies, which is great, but what they have to say could be misrepresented because of media, or because it's just not a firsthand experience.
It's hard for me to define myself as a Latina, because that term is almost limiting, it's not only who I am. People see me and automatically assume Hispanic, while others see me and call me black, or mixed. So, how do I categorize myself? I have personal struggles with identification and just what I identify as overall, maybe because I've always had to check myself into a box. What about the other parts of me?
For me, being Puerto Rican-Haitian means coming to terms with how I see myself, and owning that because I can't allow for the general public to define me, to tell my narrative. As an [Afro-Latina] writer, I have the creative freedom to navigate through certain topics, including those concerning Latinidad and what that all encompasses. —Bianca Salvant, Writer
AFRO: Dreaming In Color
I love to gather all my cultural standpoints. When I think of people of color—everybody has struggles because we’re human, but when I think of all the struggles people of color have had, there's a huge culture that binds us black and brown people.
A lot of my ancestors and certain elements of my background, I don’t know too well. But I do know there was a lot of struggles and a lot of terrible things that happened to our people. But they were the ones that paved the way for a strong future for other black Mexicans, like me. So for me to be able to write rhymes for a living, and have the freedom to talk about being Afro-Latino, is a blessing. It makes me think back in the day they didn't have the access we have today, [my family] couldn't get on a laptop, or search for lyrics on the phone. At one point there wasn't even notebooks and pencils. My ancestors had poetry in their head. So there was this people with incredible talent and they didn't get to express it because of historical circumstances. So it definitely makes me feel proud, and makes me also want to go back and look more into the duality of my peoples. —AFRO, Rapper/Actor
Jay Weisleder: Changing The Stereotype
It's a miracle to be Latino, today. And even though I don't want to be the Latino producer whose work is always pigeonholed, I don’t mind it if what I'm doing is elevating Latinos and getting our stories out there. If it's positive, I’ll embrace it. But I also want do things that are not necessarily about my culture, I want to explore other narratives that I appreciate, because there are other Latinos like me.
As far as the political climate is concerned, it's kinda sad to learn how a lot of people in this country really feel about race and Latinos in particular. But I also think when there's difficulties, there is opportunity, and I see the opportunity. I think there is a lot of opportunity for all of us. If we get up as a collective and create the work or networks we need to create—actions speak louder than words. I’m all about doing things that people can say, "Oh look, they're making it happen." Changing the stereotypes is not easy, but we gotta get up and try. That's what I love about 'Hands of Stone' That movie is centered on one of our heroes, and it isn't some clichéd, stereotypical story about a Latino in the drug trade, or beating on women. It's about a Panamanian boxing legend, whose story is incredibly important and worthy of telling. —Jay Weisleder, Producer/Filmmaker
Mathew Rodriguez: Expanding The Narrative
When I think about being a Latinx artist or creative person, I think about creating spaces for Latinx narratives in the media. I know that my family grew up probably not having a lot of representation in the media. And so as someone who has now immense access and privilege, I think that it’s my job to make sure that other peoples’ narratives are uplifted, especially from my own community. I’m really passionate about making sure that Latinx faces and Latinx voices are seen online and in digital spaces, because right now the Internet is a place where people who don’t know each other, or don’t anything except where they live—they can see anywhere in the world and it can validate them. And that’s huge. Having someone’s voice being uplifted and listened to is huge.
Just recently, I went to Orlando the day that the shooting at Pulse happened. Mic flew me the day that it happened. And I spoke to gay Latinxs about what Pulse was like. That was the whole reason I wanted to go there was to speak to other gay Latinxs so that they could tell other people what Pulse and what Orlando was [really] like. And it wouldn’t be from anyone else, but their mouths. That was super important to me.
What I love [most] about being Latinx and Latinidad in America, is how complicated it is. You know, there’s so much to cross through.
I think "Latinx" is the most interesting word to come out recently. And I think it just shows how much Latinxs are really trying to show the spectrum of gender in our community. And we’re also having a lot more conversations about Afro-Latinx, Afro-Latinidad, and what it means to be a white Latinx or a black Latinx. So right there in those words you have white identity, black identity, Latinx identity, gender identity. And right now, every conversation that’s happening in the media, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, or #OscarsSoWhite, Latinxs can play a central role in those conversations because we are black; we are white. There are people who benefit from whiteness in the Latino community, and there are people who don’t benefit from whiteness. So all those questions that we’re wrestling with as a nation, are hyper-magnified in the Latinx community. —Mathew Rodriguez, Mic.com Writer
Laura Stylez: Cracking The Mic
I think it’s just very important that I’m very honest, whether people agree with what I say or not. In my platform, I’m constantly driven by everything that we say, whether people agree with us or they don’t. For a long time, [radio personalities] would have to be very politically correct, and we couldn’t really take sides on anything. We just had to deliver the news, we were like puppets for a long time. Today, I’m in a beautiful place because my show in particular—we’re very opinionated about whatever we feel the need to discuss. Which is important to me because I feel [Latinos] have a social responsibility to be very honest about our experiences and to connect with our people. That’s why I love Terrestrial Radio, and I especially love the fact that our station is local because we talk about the things that are happening in our own community. And it’s really important that we shine a light on that.
Listen, when we were really vocal about police brutality and responsibility, we got a lot of flack from it man. A lot of people twisted our words and were saying, "You guys should be more responsible." We got called all kinds of names. Somebody in the streets called me a cop-hater. Like really? I have the utmost respect for police, but officers need to be held accountable no matter what. [Peter] Rosenberg made a great point and that clip that went viral when he was talking to a police officer and he was like, "Look if there’s another radio personality, who’s a bad personality, then I have no problem saying that specific radio personality is bad. But not all of us our bad." And then we talked about accountability and what we wanted as people. We had a lot of police officers also calling thanking us and saying that it’s something they can’t even talk about. And these are conversations that, at one point, could only happen behind the scenes. I'm a part of an era where we can now have these important conversations on the air. Some people praised us, some hated us, but I carry the truth with pride.
When the Orlando shootings happened, I broke down on the air and started crying. My sister’s gay. I’m part of the LGBT community. I'm not gay myself, but that’s my family and I'm an ally. So yes, I'm a part of it. When I put on for Black Lives Matter, I'm putting on for family too. So I’m apart of that family as a brown person. To me, being a Latina creative today is all about being honest man.
For a long time, it bothered me when every single Latin publication would ask me, "What does it mean to be a Latina in hip-hop?" Well, I don’t really think about it like that. When I come into a room, I don’t think of myself as the token Latina in hip-hop. We helped create this thing. I'm a functioning piece of the puzzle. I look at my position as extremely purposeful, and as I get older, I’m even more proud of that.
For a long time, even when we spoke to our grandmothers and our mothers, a lot of us didn’t really embrace who we were. We hid behind clothes, behind make up, behind hairstyles. We wouldn’t embrace our roots. We always wanted to be this version of what we thought we were supposed to look like in America. To me, being Latina means fully embracing all of who I am, how I move, what I look like. And I show my pride whenever I can. I tell people. When people find out that I’m Guatemalan, they bug out because there’s not too many Guatemalans out there [in the industry]. So I love to represent for Centroamerica.
Now, more than ever before, I understand everything that my parents and my grandparents had to go through. We’re at a beautiful place where we can really be who we want to be, who we really are. —Laura Stylez, HOT97 Radio Personality
Carlos Andrés Gómez: Spitting The Truth
Being Latino means being intuitive about having to carry many worlds in anything that I like. So for example, I’m actually in a graduate writing program right now, a low resident TFMA program, and I feel like there’s a lot of people that don’t feel the kind of obligation or responsibility that I do with their work. Like they can write a poem, a pastoral poem about a deer, and it’s just about the deer. They don’t feel like they have to carry their world in the poems, because there’s an accountability with that. And that’s something I feel like a lot of writers of color talk about a lot. There’s something that we feel forced to grapple with that a lot of other white writers do not feel like they have to.
I think that a lot of my life has been feeling like I am outside watching something, and I think that informs every piece that I write because I feel like I’m just on the precipice of something or I’m on a fault line between two separate worlds or many separate worlds. So, I feel like as a [Latino] writer, I’m always in transition; I’m always in movement, in between multiple things or I’m trying to hold on to multiple things simultaneously. Whereas I think that there are some writers, they’ll write an entire book—and not that you can’t do this if you’re writing from the immigrant experience, but I think that to stay with one singular image that you turn over and turn over and turn over and let it just be whatever it is singularly. It's different feeling like you have to carry all these different things simultaneously.
I think the most interesting about being a Latino, or Latinx rather, right now in the world is we’re at a moment where—and I’m specifically to us being in New York City right now in the United States, but also in the world—we’re at a point where it’s becoming more and more difficult for us to not have the visibility that will have to happen in 10 or 15 years. When we’re 35 percent, 40 percent of the U.S. population. It’s going to be really hard for us to be erased or invisibilized. We’re already a sizeable demographic. You see all the different ways with new media, different channels and platforms that are being created by us that are speaking to us, that are speaking with us and with each other, that invisibility becomes less and less feasible. And I think that we live in a world where there’s so many gatekeepers that prevented us from having visibility, from having our stories told on our own terms, by us. That's changing. There’s a lot of exciting momentum. There’s a lot more responsibility for the stories that we have to tell. But also, similar to any period of dynamic change or when things are moving, there’s been huge backlash and pushback. There are a lot of people who feel evermore embolden to make sure our stories are not told, who make sure we don’t have platforms to make sure our books are not published.
The revolutionary work is the meeting point between us as artists and our responsibility as human beings. We live in a world where there’s an actual presidential candidate that [wants] to kick 11 million people out of the country, which is not even constitutional, not even possible. But the fact that [Trump] can say that and have it be published on major news network and not have people offended by it, just laughed off, is too absurd. To live in a country where that could happen, where immigrant populations documented and undocumented, made everything possible. Slave labor and low wage labor are what made this country possible. There wouldn’t be industrialization, capitalism. None of this would be possible without immigrants.
I think to be Latino right now means carrying the responsibility that comes with this growing momentum of dynamic of Latinx artists that are pushing against the erasure of our stories. That’s what being a Latino right now means for me. And I think that because it’s becoming less and less feasible for us to just be tucked away and not be seen, because that’s becoming more difficult for the gatekeepers, people that are in power, people that for so long were able to prevent certain stories from merging, and certain people’s works from emerging, now there’s a lot of pushback where people want to prevent [our] stories from coming up, or they want to co-opt them and try to contain them and control them, which is part of the same narrative. —Carlos Andrés Gómez, Poet
Argentina Flores: Carving A New Path
It gets me in trouble sometimes because there has to be a purpose, right? And why I do what I do is really based on passion because it’s of who I am. I love people. And I’ve been blessed enough to run businesses where I deal with people and help them grow. This is how I give back to my community. A lot of the members here at QNS Collective run start-ups, and I think I have a lot to give in that respective, just based on the few years. I’m only 40, but in the last 20 years of my life, I’ve been working independently as a freelancer in all different aspects of business, from being an admin to being an art director to being a freelancer.
I think I deal with a lot of millennials here that come straight out of college, or even bypass college and jump into business. And it’s a road less traveled, especially for a Latina. I think I still have a lot to learn, but I also have a lot to give because of my experience. I’ve always been that way, very mothering. So me running the first co-working space in Queens, NY is kind of me living out who I am, but with business in mind.
I never really talk about being Latina until I'm reminded I'm Latina, does that make sense? I just moved to a new neighborhood in Queens, in a predominantly white building. I went through an interview process to get into the building where I was reminded am Latina. Not that anyone interviewing me made it a point, just looking around the interview room and after touring the building I realize, there wasn't any brown or black people. And then am reminded. Sometimes, those moments are laughable.
Like when I worked in a corporate environment. When I would walk into the board room, and they’re all men and they’re all white. And you’re walking in with this title—I’m the art director and telling them what to do, I’ve had the pushback. And they always want me to sit down, they want me to sit down and be quiet, because I'm walking in with an opinion. But I don’t take to that sh*t easily. I think it’s growing up in New York, in these streets, we're kind of like, "f*ck you." This is the anger I have towards Donald Trump. This is why I cannot stand him. I cannot stand him because he’s a thug. He’s a thug, and he’s white supremacy all the way. Let's Make America Great Again? So let’s Make America before a black man could be president? That was great again? Just in those words alone, he says it all. And that’s the reminder, the reminder that I’m Latina, that I'm black, that I'm other. And when you have to remind me of those things, it’s almost to say that I don’t belong here. —Argentina Flores, Creative Director
Alvin Blanco: Tracing The Link
As a black [writer], I am constantly having to prove myself. I might have this talent, but I still need to do the work of over-reading, over-writing, over-improving just to be on the playing field. I became a music journalist because I wanted to tell stories concerning hip-hop, authentically, not that have them be white-washed, you know?
I was born in Honduras, I'm Afro-Latino. I have my own unique experience being raised in the Bronx, and as a hip-hop head. And because I’m aware of that, I try to apply my experience where I can because not only am I proud of it, but I know there are others like me.
Being of Latino descent sometimes feels like I’m undercover just because when you look at me, unless you’re nuanced about how varied the spectrum is of Latino peoples, you might not know that I’m Afro-Latino. To the average Joe, I look like a black man from the South. But I’m a black man from Honduras and rep The Bronx. I’ve never run away from that. The Latino plight, the black and brown plight, that's what informs me because that's who I am.
I’ve had to explain it a bunch of times: why I look the way I look but speak Spanish. The slave ships went further South most people care to remember. By now, people should really know that being black and being Latino are not mutually exclusive. Some people genuinely need to be put on, others seem to have this intrinsic prejudice or bigotry about them. And those are the people who I don't need to be f*cking with anyway. —Alvin Blanco, HipHopWired.com Deputy Editor
Lou Ortega: Fighting The Good Fight
My parents were immigrants before they became citizens, obviously, they are Ecuadorians. I’m not Puerto Rican or Dominican or Colombian. I'm not from one of those better-known countries. I'm Ecuadorian. My dad was one of those refugees that was brought into Miami and thrown into those prisons. He was actually one of those people, and for him to come out of that and finally be based and live in Miami and move to New York in the early '90s, and finally become a U.S. citizen means a lot to me and my family. My mother came a different way. She came in the U.S., became a citizen fairly quickly. She was still a teenager and went to high school in Brooklyn. She did everything the "right way." Everyone can't have the same story.
I still have family that lives in Ecuador. I have family that faced the big earthquake that happened there. But even as someone who was lucky enough to born in this country, immigration means a lot to me. I get to show the people that came before me—all immigrants—the success we can accomplish. There are immigrants out there winning Olympic medals, doing big things with their lives, joining the U.S. army, becoming citizens and going into the army and actually fighting for this country, so I'm not with that Donald Trump guy. Nah.
I think, today, Latinos are slowly but surely gaining the respect and acknowledgement we deserve. When I think about how things used to be for my parents, I think we've come a long way. We're doing so much, especially for our communities. Our people contribute as artists, actors, business men and women, we're even millionaires. As for me, I'm lucky to be alive. Lucky to have air in my lungs, a roof over my head, and family that loves me. I was diagnosed with Leukemia a couple years ago. And I've been fighting that good fight ever since.
I can't disrespect the lineage I come from. You understand? Whatever I do, I have to honor my roots by carrying that world with me. I defend it 100 percent. I am 100 percent Latino, no matter what. I would never change my race or country I come from. Because there are still a lot of people out there that don't look at Latinos as leaders, and we can continue to prove people wrong by our actions, by the things we choose to create or champion. That's the best part—that we’re becoming one, no matter what kind of Latino you are. It's not one race, there are other races and cultures inside the Latino community. We’re definitely a force to be reckoned with, and I'm just proud that I get to represent and do good for my people. —Lou Ortega, Radio Personality/Host