Recognizing Afro-Latinos during Black History Month

Although the Latino community prides itself on its diversity and the various cultures of its members, Afro-Latinos are often overlooked, both in terms of their inclusion and contributions to Latinos around the world. In honor of Black History Month, we present 11 Afro-Latinos who have had significant influences on American and Latino culture.

Art

Jean-Michel Basquiat Jean-Michel Basquiat

1960–1988
Brooklyn, New York

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in Brooklyn to a Haitian father and Puerto Rican mother, and lived in Puerto Rico for a time. Basquiat developed his innate artistic talent during childhood, resulting in his unique interpretation of neo-expressionism, influenced by the 1970s movements emerging in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Combining poetry, abstract elements, and social commentary into visually arresting pieces, his work continues to inspire artists of all mediums and genres.

Scull (1981)

Scull (1981)

Junot Diaz    Junot Diaz

Born 1968
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz has interwoven his Dominican heritage into his writing, allowing it to influence and shape his stories. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey, Diaz’s writing has given Latinos of all ages stories that reflect their own experiences and introduced the inner world of Latinos to all Americans. In 2012, he received the MacArthur Fellowship award.

Entertainment

Celia Cruz Celia Cruz

1925–2003
Havana, Cuba

Named the Queen of Latin Music, Celia Cruz was instrumental in popularizing salsa music across the world. Born in Cuba, Cruz first learned to sing santería songs against her Catholic mother’s wishes. After appearing on Havana radio, Cruz began recording songs in Venezuela. As Cruz’s star rose, she brought the world’s attention to salsa, and Latin music in general. Over her 55-year career, Cruz won eight Grammys, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.

Sammy Davis, Jr. Sammy Davis Jr

1925–1990
Harlem, New York

Known as Mister Show Business, Sammy Davis Jr. began his career in entertainment at the age of three, learning to dance from his Afro-Cuban mother. Originally part of a vaudeville act with his father, Davis stood out for his dancing, singing, acting, and impressions. As a member of the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and others, Davis became an American entertainment institution. Along with the rest of the Pack, Davis starred in Ocean’s 11 and more than 30 other films. In 1960, he was awarded with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and posthumously honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

Rosario Dawson Rosario Dawson

Born 1979
New York City, New York

Born to a single mother of Cuban and Puerto Rican ancestry, Rosario Dawson began her acting career at the age of 15. Since then, she has starred in blockbusters such as Men in Black II, Rent, Sin City, Seven Pounds, and others. Dawson is also an active philanthropist, working with organizations like Oxfam, Amnesty International, and Doctors Without Borders. She currently stars as Claire Temple on Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

Romeo Santos Romeo Santos

Born 1981
The Bronx, New York

As the lead singer of the Dominican-American band Aventura, Romeo Santos is credited with popularizing bachata music across the world, and is referred to by many as the King of Bachata. Since the breakup of Aventura, Santos has had a successful solo career. Shortly after the election of Barack Obama, Santos was invited to the White House to perform for the President and First Lady. Last year, he had a cameo in Furious 7, and will voice a character in the upcoming Angry Birds Movie

Zoe Saldana Zoe Saldana

Born 1978
Passaic, New Jersey

Since starring in the highest grossing film of all time, Avatar, Zoe Saldana has become a household name. Saldana, who lived in the Dominican Republic as a child and speaks fluent Spanish, went on to star in movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy and JJ Abrams’ Star Trek series. This year, she will portray Nina Simone in the biopic Nina, about the late singer.

Esperanza Spalding Esperanza Spalding

Born 1984
Portland, Oregon

Hailed as a musical prodigy since childhood, Esperanza Spalding has pushed the boundaries of modern jazz, while incorporating interpretations of bossa nova and rhythm and blues. Self-taught on various instruments since first learning to play violin at five years old, Spalding was awarded a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music where, at age 20, she later became one of the youngest professors in school history. In 2011, Spalding became the first jazz artist to win Best New Artist at the Grammys. This past January, Spalding performed at the White House for the President and First Lady. 

Journalism

Soledad O’Brien Soledad O'Brien

Born 1966
St. James, New York

Born to an Afro-Cuban mother and Australian father, Soledad O’Brien has been a pioneer in journalism since joining NBC News in 1991. Since then she has gone on to appear on CNN, HBO, and Al Jazeera, to name a few. She is also the founder and chairman of the Starfish Media Group, as well as assuming hosting duties for the National Geographic Bee after former host Alex Trebek stepped down in 2013.

Sports

Roberto Clemente                Roberto Clemente

1934–1972
San Antón, Puerto Rico

Playing all 18 years of his MLB career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Roberto Clemente served as an ambassador for Latinos and baseball fans while the major leagues were still struggling with racism in the sport. He led the league in batting average during the 1960 season and the Pirates would go on to win the World Series against the New York Yankees. During his final season in 1972, Clemente achieved his 3,000th hit in the majors with his final, regular season at bat. Clemente passed away during a plane crash en route to deliver aid to Managua, Nicaragua, after an earthquake ravaged the city. He was entered into the Baseball Hall of Fame the following year with 92% of the vote. The Roberto Clemente Award for Sports Excellence is presented at the NCLR Annual Conference in his honor.

Carmelo Anthony Carmelo Anthony

Born 1984
Brooklyn, New York

Part of the SuperDraft class of 2003, featuring stars like Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, whose father was Puerto Rican, has been a force in the NBA since being drafted third overall. Known for his explosive offense, Anthony was named the 2013 NBA scoring champion, averaging 28.2 points per game through the 2012–2013 season. Combined with his two Olympic gold medals, one as part of the 2008 Redeem Team, Melo’s been a staple of NBA highlight reels for more than a decade.

Want to Understand Race? Let’s Acknowledge Our Implicit Biases First

By Joseph Rendeiro, Media Relations Associate, NCLR

“Not to sound racist, but….”

“Why isn’t there a ‘White Entertainment Television’?”

“He’s so cute…for a black guy.”

In what seems like ages ago (aka two years) for the social media universe, a viral video called “Sh*t Girls Say” blew up on the Internet, inspiring hundreds of equally humorous parodies for every possible type of person, from Asian grandmas to hobbits. And while the videos were meant to be funny, highlighting extreme stereotypes in jest, reading video creator Francesca Ramsey’s thought process behind the making of her video sheds light on how something seemingly innocuous can offer legitimate social commentary. For Ramsey, the video is based on her real-life experiences and meant to both make people laugh and open their eyes to how they treat others of a different race.

Race is a difficult topic to address and often one that gets overlooked. Yes, we have Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month. Societal changes have spawned younger generations that are generally more inclusive and recognize that racism is unacceptable. But the reality is that many of us continue to treat people, and oftentimes people of color, differently because of our own biases, which, to be fair, most of us don’t recognize we hold on to.

With the help of partners such as NCLR, NAACP, and a host of others groups, MTV recently launched the “Look Different” campaign, an initiative aimed at younger generations to combat inequality based on race, gender, and sexuality. The campaign spotlights implicit bias—attitudes that a person may hold about another group of people at an unconscious level—that can manifest in exactly the kind of language Ramsey uses in her video. These comments and actions may not be intentional or have any malice behind them, but their effects are nonetheless damaging for minorities.

LookDifferent_logoThe “Look Different” campaign is focusing on race and ethnicity first, providing teens and young adults with a number of tools to help them not only recognize bias but also address instances of bias when they witness or experience them. Part of NCLR’s broader body of work is aimed at teaching the public, and particularly youth, about the effects of racial and ethnic bias, so we specifically worked with MTV to ensure that stereotypes and biases about Latinos and immigrants were addressed. Users can learn about the common types of racial bias that they may engage in without realizing it. For example, the site explains the concept of microaggressions, which are seemingly harmless phrases that add up to make people feel as though they are different or don’t belong.

The overall goal is to change people’s attitudes with the language and tools necessary to discuss a subject that many feel is off limits. By challenging existing beliefs about topics ranging from undocumented immigrants to affirmative action, we hope to make teens and young adults think twice before they call something “ghetto” or say that their friend “only got into this college because he’s Hispanic.”

Words have an impact; it’s time we start choosing them more wisely.

Do you think that you are biased? Explore lookdifferent.org and discover how your views may shape your interactions with certain groups of people.