afro latin america


Marcha do Empoderamento Crespo (“March of Crespo Empowerment”), in Salvador (Brazil),  March 13th 2016. Photos by Edgar Azevedo (@oedgaraz)

Obs: “crespo” is a word in BR Portuguese for the afro-curly texture.

Susana Baca

Susana Baca was born on May 24, 1944 in Chorrillos, Peru. Baca, both a researcher and a performer, spearheaded a revival of Afro-Peruvian music. She achieved international fame in the 1990s, and has since released multiple albums and toured the United States. Baca has garnered a reputation as an oustanding vocal talent. In 2011, she was named Peru’s Minister of Culture, becoming the first black person in Peru’s history to hold a cabinet post.

Happy birthday, Susana Baca!


Before you start reading, I just want to make a disclaimer that this paragraph is specific to me about my experience as a Puerto Rican Afro-Latina and my struggle with identity. This was originally written on my finsta and is a little unfiltered, but these are my raw feelings about what it’s been like for me coming up as an Afro-Latina in the U.S.

People constantly dismiss Afro-Latinx, because Afro-Latinx don’t have pale skin with straight hair, but instead are dark with curly/nappy hair. “You don’t look Puerto Rican.” Well Susan, please enlighten me. What the fuck does a Puerto Rican look like? Puerto Ricans come in all different shapes, sizing and colors, all coming from different parts of the island. Anyone with a basic knowledge of history knows that the slave trade was prominent in countries colonized by Spain and Portugal, now known as Latin America, so a lot of Latinx have African, European and Native American ancestry. Some Latinx may look more African while others may look more European. Does appearance make anyone less Latinx? No. So don’t try to tell me, in my case, that I don’t “look” Puerto Rican because I don’t look like what you think a Latinx looks like. I got the DNA test to prove it sis don’t try me. Don’t accuse me of hating my blackness, and that I’m trying to be Hispanic because I don’t want to be black. I love my black, my white and my taína. Allow me to be proud of my brown skin and my nappy hair, and wear my flag proudly, without criticizing me because I don’t look like Jlo. I’m stepping off of my soapbox. Goodnight.

In early-twentieth-century urban Peru, few cultural traditions remained that were considered Afro-Peruvian. Race was perceived as changeable, whiteness was equated with social mobility, and, as Raúl Romero explains (1994), Peruvians of African descent typically were not viewed as a separate ethnic group because they identified culturally, along with the descendants of Europeans, as criollos, a term that originally described the children of Africans born into slavery and later included European descendants born in Peru. After independence, the word criollo came to describe a set of cultural practices that were believed to be of European origin, including música criolla, or Creole music. At Lima’s jaranas (multi-day, invitation-only social gatherings involving the communal affirmation of shared criollo culture through food, drink, humor, music, and dance), ethnically diverse criollos performed música criolla, especially the marinera, on the guitar, cajón (box drum), and other instruments. Those who did not play an instrument sang, danced, or performed the special rhythmic handclap patterns unique to each musical genre, affirming the participatory character of creating and maintaining a shared culture. Although the performers were of mixed ethnic backgrounds, by the middle of the century this music was considered to be of strictly European origin (Romero 1994).

Before the Afro-Peruvian revival, many blacks in Peru identified with criollo culture, yet they were denied the social benefits afforded white criollos. In the 1960s, while African independence movements and the U.S. civil rights movement sought to overturn colonialism and racism, respectively, in Peru, music and dance were the first successful arenas for the politics of black resistance. Whereas for some critics, staged music and dance might seem an unlikely format for collective protest, the first step for Afro-descendants in the isolated black Pacific was to make themselves visible as a group by organizing around a newly embraced collective, ethnic, and diasporic identity before they could unite in a political struggle for civil rights. In the Afro-Peruvian revival, black Peruvians began by mounting staged performances that reinscribed forgotten and ignored black culture in Peruvian official history, starting with times of slavery (plantation settings, slave dances, and so on). The leaders of the Afro-Peruvian revival reconstructed lost black Peruvian music and dances for theatrical performances and recordings, musically promoting racial difference to challenge the prevailing ideology of criollo unity without racial equality.

Many Peruvian musicians date the beginning of the revival to 1956, when Peruvian scholar José Durand (a white criollo) founded the Pancho Fierro company, which presented the first major staged performance of reconstructed Afro-Peruvian music and dance at Lima’s Municipal Theater. Several black Peruvians who participated in Durand’s company formed their own groups in the 1960s, including the charismatic siblings Nicomedes and Victoria Santa Cruz. Perú Negro, the only group from the revival still existing in the twenty-first century, was founded in 1969 by former protégés of Victoria Santa Cruz…

Like her brother, Victoria Santa Cruz looked toward the black Atlantic to forge a transnational diasporic identity for black Peruvians, transplanting musical instruments and cultural expressions in revival productions. But Victoria Santa Cruz’s most celebrated legacy in Peru is her idiosyncratic deployment of “ancestral memory” as the cornerstone of a choreographic technique that enabled her to “return” to Africa by looking deep within her own body for the residue of organic ancestral rhythms…

Explaining what she means by “ancestral memory,” Victoria Santa Cruz writes: “What is ancestry? Is it a memory? And if so, what is it trying to make us remember? … The popular and cultural manifestations, rooted in Africa, which I inherited and later accepted as ancestral vocation, created a certain disposition toward rhythm, which over the years has turned itself into a new technique, ‘the discovery and development of rhythmic sense’ … I reached my climax … when I went deep into that magical world that bears the name of rhythm” (Santa Cruz 1978, 18). Elsewhere, she said: “Having discovered, first ancestrally and later through study and practice, that every gesture, word, and movement is a consequence of a state of being, and that this state of being is tied to connections and disconnections of fixed centers or plexus … allowed me to rediscover profound messages in dance and traditional music that could be recovered and communicated. … The black man knows through ancestry, even when he is not conscious of it, that what is outwardly elaborated has its origin or foundation in the interior of those who generate it” (V. Santa Cruz 1988, 85).

—  Heidi Carolyn Feldman,  “Strategies of the Black Pacific: Music and Diasporic Identity in Peru,” Comparative Perspectives on Afro-Latin America (2012)
Columbus Day

Columbus Day is this Monday. Here’s a reminder that Columbus didn’t land on Plymouth Rock or anywhere in North America. He landed in the Caribbean and in his lifetime committed genocide in the Caribbean and in Central America. He is the cause for the colonisation of the Caribbean and Latin America and later the Caribbean and Latin American slave trade. In his lifetime and many years after North America wasn’t part of the picture. Stop erasing Caribbean and Latin Americans from Columbus Day history/discourse. Stop erasing the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Latin America. Centre us. We know more than anyone the aftermath and the history of Columbus because that is our history. Most of the indigenous people that Columbus oppressed are now Black and or Latino. It is also a form of anti blackness and racism against PoC Latinos to erase us from our own history. I encourage all Caribbean and or Latin Americans to take back Columbus Day history and discourse and make it about ourselves, the descendants of the indigenous people Columbus terrorised. Don’t let our ancestors get erased.


Contrary to popular belief, many Latin Americans do not have surnames that are of Castilian (Spanish) or Portuguese origin, just as many people from the United States do not posses surnames that are of English origin. [Part l]

Above: Celebrities from Latin America with surnames that are not of Castilian or Portuguese origin [from left to right]:

1. Salma Hayek, Mexican with a Lebanese surname;

2. Keiko Sofía Fujimori Higuchi, Peruvian with two Japanese surnames;

3. Norfalia Carabalí, Colombian with a surname that originates with the Kalabari people of Nigeria;

4.Ezequiel Lavezzi, Argentine with an Italian surname;

5. Fernando Aristeguieta, Venezuelan with a Basque surname;

6. Francisco Lachowski, Brazilian with a Polish surname;

7. Ollanta Humala, Peruvian with an Indigenous Quechua surname;

8. William Levy, Cuban with a Hebrew surname;

9. Carla Constanza Peterson, Argentine with a Swedish surname;

10. Scharllette Allen, Nicaraguan with a Scottish surname.


When the Iberians colonized Latin America, they began to force conversion to Catholicism onto the Indigenous populations of the areas they conquered. After an Indigenous person was baptized, they were assigned a Castilian or Portuguese surname, to signify a new life distanced from their pagan roots. The same fate befell the enslaved Africans that were brought to the Americas by the Spaniards and Portuguese. After the colonial era many Latin American countries started to receive a myriad of immigrants; mostly from Europe, but also from Asia, the West Indies, and the United States. Countless of these immigrants would Iberianize their surnames in order to assimilate smoothly, examples of this can be seen with the German immigrants who came to Brazil; names such as Birnbaum, Löwe, Zimmermann, Frazen were changed to Pereira, Leão, Simão, and França. For all the reasons mentioned above, the majority of Latin Americans (not including the Francophone regions) these days have Castilian or Portuguese surnames.

However, a significant number of Latin Americans have managed to resist the adoption of Portuguese and Castilian surnames.

Indigenous surnames can be frequently found in countries with large unmixed Amerindian populations, an example of this is Peru where surnames such as Quispe, Huamán, Mamani are some of the most frequent. In southern Mexico and Guatemala names of Mayan origin such as: Tecú, Tuyub, Zum, Xuluc, Tun, Canché, Tuyuc, Curruchich, Choc, and Xicara; are also commonly found.

West and Central African originated surnames can be found in areas of the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador where the African-descended populations have been historically isolated. They can also be found in the Caribbean regions of Colombia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean islands. Cuba is an example of this as it was the last nation in the Caribbean region to abolish slavery, and many of the enslaved Africans brought in the latter parts of the colonial era were not strictly enforced to accept their Christian surnames, so they would adopt ones that signified the tribe or region they descended from such as Boni, Carabalí, Biafara, and Cumbá.  

Nonetheless, the most common surnames that aren’t Castilian or Portuguese in origin, are those belonging to the descendants of post colonial immigrants. Although many immigrants Iberianized their surnames, others chose not to. The first wave of immigrants came from regions of Spain that weren’t traditionally part of the colonizing Castilian-speaking areas (which includes Castile/Andalusia/Extramdura) such as the Basque, Catalan, and Galician lands. Surnames from these sub-ethnic groups can be found throughout Latin America in abundance, but especially in Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and even Brazil the countries which received the most post-colonial immigrants from Spain. Furthermore, immigrants from outside of Spain(and Portugual) began to migrate to Latin America in latter waves, most coming from Europe: mainly Italy, Germany, France, and Eastern Europe and most settling in the countries mentioned previously. In Argentina, Southern Brazil, and Uruguay; Italian, German, and Slavic surnames are almost as common as Iberian ones and in some areas even more common. Immigrants also came from Western and East Asia, namely Christian Arabs from Lebanon/Syria and Japanese people. Indentured laborers were brought to places like Peru and Cuba, most of them being of Chinese background. West Indian migrants to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala (when these nations Caribbean coasts were British protectorate’s) and Panama (during the building of the Panama Canal) brought with them a multitude of British and Irish surnames as well. For this reason, many of the descendants of all these migrants mentioned above, still bear the surnames of their ancestors, despite historical pressures to assimilate/change them. 


“Así somos: Afro Identities in the Coast”

The Coast of the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero have the highest population of afro-descendants in the entire country. This documentary was created because the people from the coast of Oaxaca requested that I film our talks on identity and blackness. The recordings take place in the towns of Charco Redondo and Chacahua, both in Oaxaca.

This is something I put together last minute because I had no intention of making a documentary. It’s really basic but I wish only to give the people from the Coast representation as invisibilization of the Black race in Mexico is common. Rarely does someone think about Mexico when they think of the African diaspora, even though more enslaved Africans went to Mexico and Perú combined than the United States. 

This documentary is intended to bring awareness of the African diaspora in Mexico and to help begin conversations on identity and blackness. 


“Así somos los Negros.”

La Costa de los estados mexicanos de Guerrero y Oaxaca tienen la población más alta de afrodescendientes en todo la República. Este documental fue creado porque la gente de la Costa de Oaxaca me pidieron que grabe nuestras platicas de la identidad y la negritud.Este trabajo fue realizado en los pueblos de Charco Redondo y Chacahua, ambos en el estado de Oaxaca. 

Esto lo realicé al último minuto porque no tenía ningún intención de elaborar un documental. Mi intención con este trabajo es de darle representación a la gente Negra del la Costa que son invisibilizadas. Raramente uno piensa de México cuando piensa de la diáspora africana aunque más africanos esclavizadas fueron a México y Perú que los Estados Unidos. 

Este documental es para crear conciencia de la diaspora africana en México y para desarrollar las temas de la identidad y la negritud.

We take rejection well its life

How american guys take rejection: Fxck you then Ugly @$$ b!tch

How Islander’s take rejection: Baby gyal Mi going to be right here waiting for ya right here til the end of time incase you change ya mind

*doesn’t move from spot*
*makes eye contact so ya know its real*


Susana Baca does a studio recording.